Legal hearing over fate of 21 Northamptonshire libraries

The fight to save 21 Northamptonshire libraries from closure will head to the courtroom tomorrow (July 26).

A final hearing will take place at Birmingham administrative court as part of a judicial review into Northamptonshire County Council’s decision to no longer run 21 of its libraries.

Two teams of specialist lawyers will make their case against the county authority’s plan.

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Irwin Mitchell will represent a young girl from Desborough and Watkins and Gunn will act for the 20 other threatened libraries. Both legal actions will be heard together before a judge.

The county authority proposed last October to close down the majority of its 36 libraries in a bid to save funds.

If the proposal goes ahead it would see children’s centres and other community groups based in the libraries having to relocate.

Caroline Barrett, a specialist lawyer for Irwin Mitchell representing the Desborough family, which cannot be named for legal reasons, said: “We have been instructed to challenge Northamptonshire County Council’s decision to shut 21 libraries across the county.

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“Many people using the library services are children, or are elderly, disabled, or from low income households and they may struggle to access the library provision in larger towns.

“These cuts are extensive and our client and her family are concerned that this will have a very significant impact upon their ability to access a library service and the impact on local residents, many of whom live in rural areas. Our client’s family believe that, if implemented, these cuts will have a huge detrimental impact on the local community in Northamptonshire. Thirteen of the libraries identified for closure have children’s centres within them and even at this stage it remains unclear what will happen to those children’s centres if all these libraries close.

“We have advanced a number of legal submissions against the closure of these libraries, including an argument that to leave only 15 libraries in Northamptonshire would leave the council in breach of its duty to maintain a comprehensive and sufficient library service in the county. We are also arguing that the council failed to carry out a lawful public consultation into the proposals and that it did not conduct a full and lawful assessment of how vulnerable people will be affected by the closures.”

The girl’s mother said: “These cuts are not fair. They will have a devastating impact on families like ourselves, but also on the most vulnerable people within our community.

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“The libraries offer us so much more than just books. They offer residents access to the relevant district council’s one-stop shop, blue badge and bus pass renewal, children’s services and plenty more services that residents rely on.

“I appreciate the council is in a difficult financial position but I do not think the impact of these cuts have been properly considered by the council, and the effect that this will have on local communities.”

The hearing will last for two days and a decision will be announced at a later date.

As part of its review into the library service NCC asked groups to put in bids to take over the running of the libraries. Seventeen of the libraries received an expression of interest and it is now understood that the other four libraries have also had a group come forward to run them and had an expression of interest accepted. An NCC spokesman has said they cannot confirm this for legal reasons.

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The groups will find out next Wednesday (August 1) if their bid has been successful.  

The 21 under-threat libraries are: Abington, Danesholme, Deanshanger, Desborough, Earls Barton, Far Cotton, Finedon, Higham Ferrers, Irchester, Kingsthorpe, Long Buckby, Middleton Cheney, Moulton, Raunds, Roade, Rothwell, St James, Thrapston, Wollaston, Woodford Halse and Wootton Fields.

Sarah Ward, Local Democracy Reporter