Published: November 16, 2011
Delight as High Court declares Highbridge Library closure 'unlawful'

Hopes that Highbridge Library will be saved from closure were given a major boost on Wednesday (November 16th) when the High Court in London ruled that Somerset County Council's decision to withdrawing funding from the facility was "unlawful".

At the High Court, Judge Martin McKenna ruled that the County Council had acted unlawfully in not considering the impact on vulnerable people living in the county, such as the elderly, single parents and the disabled, in withdrawing funding for 11 libraries.

The decision means the closure plans will be reversed, much to the delight of residents and local councillors fighting Highbridge Library's closure. It comes after a long-running campaign to save the facilities.

Burnham-On-Sea.com gathered local reactions to the announcement on Wednesday.

MP Tessa Munt welcomed the decision, telling Burnham-On-Sea.com: "This is a great result in the long-running campaign to save our libraries from overly draconian cuts. It is a wake-up call to the County Council Leader that he has to consider the needs of vulnerable people first when making his decisions."

"The County Council had one of the most generous settlements from the Government of any county in the country, and the leader’s obsession with cutting services is a cynical drive to reduce perfectly manageable debt levels."

Cllr Helen Groves added: "I am delighted the judicial review has found that the decisions of SCC can be challenged. Highbridge Library is the only remaining publicly funded facility within the town, providing not only access to books, but access to jobsearchs, support for education and numerous social functions which are not easily quantified but none the less vital to many members of the community."

"As recently discussed at the Town Council, there are very real logistical difficulty's with the Town Council delivering this service, numbers of volunteers available, the requirement to find people willing to serve as board members, trustees etc, and the limitation of legal powers available whilst the statutory duty lays with the principle authority. The proposal from County has significantly downplayed the difficulty's presented by devolving such a service."

"Though I have and will continue explore every avenue available to retain a library service in Highbridge, I truly believe the best way to safeguard its future is that the services remains the responsibility of SCC."

"I am pleased to note that Judge Mckenna has given consideration to the impact upon vunerable people within the affected communities within his ruling and it is my sincere hope that SCC will now accept that though we all agree savings must be made, they must give more consideration to the impact on communitys and the fairness of approach taken. To date the efforts to close Somerset's libraries have incurred large costs to the public purse, in terms of officer hours, consultations and legal fees. I hope SCC will consider carefully, before taking any further legal action."

Burnham and Highbridge Mayor Michael Clarke added: "This is potentially excellent news for Highbridge Library after many months of uncertainty. We'll wait to see the full details but it does look very positive indeed."

Highbridge County Councillor John Woodman told Burnham-On-Sea.com: "We welcome the court’s agreement that our plans would still provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. We also welcome the judge’s comments that our consultation process met all requirements. We do of course accept all the judge's directions and will act accordingly. We will now take some time to consider the court’s lengthy judgement and discuss any next steps."

Cllr Joe Leach added: "I am elated at the decision to allow a challenge against the closures. The reasons given of 'no consideration for impact on vunerable people' is absolutely accurate. The county council has done little to protect those who rely on libraries for their education, social interaction and daily communication either by internet or through meeting. The right to read in your local library is a fundamental one that all should have access to - and by allowing this challenge, we can put this case across to ensure libraries across all of Somerset, including Highbridge, are kept open for all to enjoy. I will be fighting with them to see this through."

Councillor Ken Maddock, Leader of Somerset County Council, added: "We did not come into this Administration wanting to close things, especially services as dear to people’s hearts as our libraries. The decision was taken after great deliberation and with great reluctance. Our income is drastically down and at the same time the demand for our services is increasing. Our top priority is to provide a safety net for vulnerable children and adults. That is why we have to make savings and are looking at everything we do as a Council."

"We have worked with communities ever since we took the decision to reduce the libraries budget earlier this year and it was tremendously encouraging to see the number of people wanting to come forward and take over many of the libraries concerned. I am absolutely confident that in many cases libraries would not have closed. We now have the Judge’s ruling and are restricted as to what we can say about it at this time. We welcome the court’s agreement that our plans would still provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. We also welcome the judge’s comments that our consultation process met all requirements."

"We do of course accept all the judge’s directions and will act accordingly. We will now take some time to consider the court’s lengthy judgement and discuss any steps we need to take."

 


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