A PETITION signed by 5,000 people to keep every library open across the city was dismissed by Newcastle city councillors last night.
The appeal presented by award-winning playwright Fiona Evans to rousing applause from the public gallery demanded budget changes the council say they are legally unable to consider.
Libraries are just one of the many services under threat from proposals the city council has made to try to cope with budget cuts of £100m.
At last night’s meeting four petitions were presented to councillors with over 2,500 signatures each.
Campaigners fighting to keep libraries open said they were “disappointed” with the council’s reaction to their petition but will continue to protest before the council sets its final budget.
Mark Tyers, of the Save Newcastle Libraries campaign, who welcomed Ms Evans’ support for their cause, said: “We are disappointed. I would be surprised if more than 5,000 people have even taken part in their own consultation process so I would suggest our petition is more representative of the feeling of people in the city.”
“We’ll keep going with the campaign and look to March’s meeting to make our views heard again.”
Addressing councillors during the meeting Ms Evans, who wrote critically-acclaimed play Geordie Sinatra, said: “This campaign isn’t about the Geordie litterati, or the gliterati, it’s about ordinary people whose lives depend on city libraries.
“It might be all right for us with cars but the people I speak to can’t afford the bus fare to get into town to get to another library.”
“The people of Newcastle voted for you because they trusted you and they trusted Labour. If you vote these cuts through it will be the beginning of the end for the Labour party.”
Councillors said they were unable to address the issues cited on the petition as the demands made to make no cuts and set a needs budget were illegal under the local government finance act.
Also speaking at the meeting were representatives from campaign groups fighting to save the City Hall, swimming pools and respite centres for disabled people. A petition with more than 8,000 signatures was also presented by Nicola Vose, whose two disabled children use under threat respite centres Cheviot View and Castledene. Addressing the council, she said: “At recent consultation events people were told they would still be able to access a library within one or two miles of their homes.
“If only the people using Castledene or Cheviot View had that luxury. You have the power to make the right choice to protect the most vulnerable people in your city.”
The council agreed to look again at their proposals for the two centres and said that no final decision had been made.
The night’s proceedings were peppered with angry outbursts from the public gallery while 40 people who had come to watch the meeting were left standing in a stairwell unable to enter the council chamber.
Mr Tyers said he would be asking the council to ensure their next meeting in March is held in a room large enough to cope with 100-plus members of the public expected to attend.