Northamptonshire Residents Have Urged The Council To Reconsider Its Decision To Close 21 Libraries
A final hearing is set to take place after specialist lawyers instructed by the family of a young girl issued an application for a judicial review against Northamptonshire County Council, as they continue the fight to save 21 libraries marked for closure by the council.
The family has instructed law firm Irwin Mitchell which had previously written to Northamptonshire County Council both before and after its final decision was made at the end of February, urging it not to close the libraries, or potentially face a judicial review in the High Court.
A hearing will now take place this week, beginning on Thursday 26th July for two days, at the Administrative Court, sitting in Birmingham. It is likely that judgement will be reserved.
The council announced its final decision to close the 21 libraries in February, as part of a cost cutting exercise. The council anticipates that closing the libraries will reduce council expenditure. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government also announced in May 2018 that commissioners would also be sent into Northamptonshire County Council to take over its executive functions, following a critical “Best Value” report into how the Council’s finances had previously been managed.
The local authority has not agreed to review or revise its decision and therefore judicial review proceedings were issued at the High Court on 29 March 2018.
Caroline Barrett, a specialist lawyer for Irwin Mitchell representing the family, which cannot be named for legal reasons, said:
Expert Opinion“We have been instructed to challenge Northamptonshire County Council’s decision to shut 21 libraries across the county.
“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. 13 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.” Caroline Barrett - Senior Associate Solicitor
The council’s decision has already received widespread criticism. In March, the Government’s culture secretary at the time, Matt Hancock MP, announced he was considering an inquiry into the decision following a complaint from Cilip, the leading professional body for librarians.
According to Cilip, the council’s plan would leave the county with 15 libraries, eight large and seven medium branches. This would equate to one library for every 60,000 residents, which is significantly greater than the European average of one library for every 16,000 residents.
The family that is being represented by Irwin Mitchell make extensive use of one of the 21 libraries set to close, attending playgroups and children’s centre activities.
The child’s mother and litigation friend, 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.
“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.”