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High Court to review decision on volunteer-run libraries
Campaigners claim council consultation was flawed
Published: 13 October 2011
by DAN CARRIER
THE High Court will be asked to review plans to force three libraries to be run by volunteers instead of the council, and the decision to close the Regent’s Park branch.
The Camden Public Library User Group (C-Plug) has instructed King’s Cross solicitors Bindmans to lodge an application for a judicial review, which means Camden may have to defend the way it worked out its strategy in a courtroom.
C-Plug argues the council’s consultation process was flawed because questions given to library users about how budget cuts should fall were leading and loaded.
Chairman Alan Templeton said the legal challenge was the final resort: “We have run out of options – we have tried everything else. We have pleaded with the council to look again but they were in no mood to change their minds.”
He said the Town Hall only had themselves to blame for the cost and trouble of having to hear the arguments in front of a High Court judge.
Mr Templeton added: “If the council had carried out a proper consultation it would have realised what they were proposing was deeply unpopular and would not work.
“We have asked them to compromise and we also showed them how to make the £1.6million savings without putting any libraries at risk.
“Now all we can do is go to court and ask them to make the council go back and look again, and ask the residents what they want in a proper manner. This is about democracy.”
No date has yet been set for the hearing.
A council spokesman said: “The council is required to find nearly £100million of savings following the reduction in funding from central government.
“While nearly £42.5million of back office savings have been identified, the level of cuts to our funding means that we have to look at reconfiguring the services we provide to our residents.
“Following £400,000 of back office savings being made from the libraries budget, a further saving of £1.6million was required and a full consultation as to how these savings could be found was undertaken.
“With over 6,000 responses to this consultation the findings were then used to inform a series of options considered by the Cabinet.
“Following the presentation of these options, a decision to find alternative ways of providing services from three libraries across the borough was taken.”
He added: “The council has received a letter before claim from Bindmans LLP acting on behalf of the Camden Public Libraries User Group and will be considering the contents before responding in due course.”
Meanwhile, plans are being laid by various voluntary groups to take on three libraries being shunted out of public control by the cuts.
The Heath and Hampstead Society are in talks with the Friends of Heath Library about putting in an expression of interest to run the Keats Grove branch.
Community centre The Winch, based in Swiss Cottage, hope to help manage Belsize, while the Friends of Chalk Farm Library and the Primrose Hill Community Association are combining to raise funds to manage their branch in Sharpleshall Road.
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