Council denies Library u-turn amid consultation row

By in Politics

Save Bath Library campaigners are celebrating after Bath and North East Somerset Council has promised further consultations on the moving of Bath Central Library from the Podium to Manvers Street.

This follows a protest outside the Guildhall before last week’s budget meeting, where campaigners reportedly presented the Council with a pre-litigation letter over the way in which the consultation had been handled, as the questionnaires concern the services the new library would offer, rather than whether the library should be moved at all.

Protestors have been questioning the moving of Bath Central Library since plans were announced, raising concerns about the services a library within Lewis House would provide and the justification of the cost. B&NES say that the moving of Bath Central Library and Midsomer Norton Library into the Council’s One Stop Shops on Manvers Street in Bath and The Hollies in Midsomer Norton, would bring in an annual saving of £800,000. However, Cllr Tim Warren, Leader of B&NES Council, recently revealed that the cost of moving the two libraries would be in the region of £5 million when he appeared on BBC Bristol.

This has raised further concerns about the financial justification of moving the two libraries, however, Conservatives argue that rather than closing libraries, which is happening across the country, the savings versus the investment stands up and that modernising the library service locally helps ensure its future.

Save Bath Library campaigners say the Council has agreed to carry out a formal consultation, which could result in Bath Central Library remaining in the Podium, though it is unclear whether there will also be plans to change the consultation on the moving of Midsomer Norton Library, asking whether it should move or not.

Caroline Ambrose, from the Save Bath Library group, said: “We are really pleased to have forced this concession from the Council. In our opinion, it was breaching its legal duties by failing to consult on the plans to relocate and downsize. It can’t just cherry pick and consult on where to put the bookshelves, and you don’t consult on the layout of a new library before you consult on whether to move the library at all.

“Local people have been very concerned that the Council’s plans did not stack up: we saw the financial information as exaggerated, the user information distorted, and the claims that the size of the new library is the same as patently false.

“On top of this, the move was presented as a cost-saving exercise, when in reality, the move would have wasted around £5 million of public money, including £2.2 million to refurbish the present library into Council office accomodation.

“We will fight on now to hold B&NES fully to account through the consultation process and will be keeping a close eye on all further statements and proposals.”

A spokesperson for Bath and North East Somerset Council said: “The Council has not yet reached a decision on whether to move Bath Library, but is currently undertaking a consultation on a proposal to integrate the Library and Customer Services.

“The consultation focuses on what services local people want provided. The outcome of this will be made public and will form part of a business case. There will then be a further period of public consultation.

“This is not a U-turn, as it has always been our intention to hold further consultations as the Council has a duty to meet the requirements of the Museum and Library Services Act 2010 and public equality duties.

“At this stage we cannot say what the final proposals for Bath Library will be, as the business case has not been produced. We are at the start of a three year process seeking to integrate and modernise the Library Service with other customer facing services.

“While some other local authorities have been forced to cut library services, Bath and North East Somerset Council remains committed to the provision of quality Library Services.

“The current consultation closes on March 1st and the Council will listen to feedback provided.”