OPPOSITION is growing to plans to reduce library opening hours across County Durham as part of a cost-cutting measure.
Labour-controlled Durham County Council is proposing cutting opening hours at 11 town centre libraries and 27 community libraries.
Mobile library services would also be reduced, in an effort to save £1.5m overall.
But opposition county councillors say budget cuts could be made more effectively elsewhere, including slashing the county’s communications budget, cutting directors’ salaries and axing its free magazine. Yesterday residents of Belmont, Durham, handed over a petition at county council headquarters at Aykley Heads urging the council to reconsider cutting their library’s opening hours from 43 to 20 per week.
Supporters say Belmont Library is one of the best performing in the county, issuing 96,628 books a year to 42,253 visitors.
Eric Mavin, chairman of Carrville and Belmont Residents’ Association, said: “Residents of Belmont and district prize their library and have therefore instigated a petition against the proposed reduction in opening hours.
“The sustained strong response is clearly demonstrating how much it is valued by the community.”
Other communities which have protested include Consett, Annfield Plain, Ferryhill, and Newton Hall.
Duncan Barnett, an Independent county councillor for Consett, said his local library loans out 200,000 books a year and argued that the opening hours at Consett Library should not be cut from 50 to 38 per week.
Liberal Democrat County Councillor Mark Wilkes said: “The council is consulting on its library strategy until May 4 and has received thousands of responses so far. A petition for Newton Hall library already has over 600 signatures. Petitions have also been set up for Ferryhill and Annfield Plain libraries.”
Petitions can be signed at www.durham.gov.uk/petitions
Coun Maria Plews, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for leisure, libraries and lifelong learning, who yesterday took receipt of the petition from Belmont residents, said: “The council needs to make savings of £159.2m by 2015/16 and at the same time also needs to respond to changing demand for library services as the number of borrowers declines.
“These proposals would enable us to keep all our libraries open and make the required savings while still providing a high quality service.
“However, I understand the concerns of Belmont residents, and welcome this petition. We will take this into account in making a final decision later this year.”
Library opening times currently vary from 21 hours per week in smaller venues to 55.5 hours at Clayport, in Durham. The proposals would see the opening hours for all town centre libraries, excluding Clayport, reduced to a core 36 hours per week, with community libraries such as Belmont operating a core 20 hours per week.
The proposals would also see changes to the mobile library service, which has seen a significant drop in membership from 7,800 in March 2008 to 3,538 in March 2011. Under the new strategy, it is proposed that the service visit only those communities at least four miles from a library, with only one halt in each settlement the library visits. The consultation lasts for 12 weeks, ending on May 4.
Comments can be submitted by email to Library.Consultation@durham.gov.uk or by writing to Library Consultation, Performance Management Team, Adults Wellbeing & Health, County Hall, Durham DH1 5UG.