Burnham-On-Sea and Highbridge councillors have this week unanimously supported the campaign to save Highbridge Library from closure after hearing concerns from local residents.
At this week’s council meeting, councillors voted in favour of saving and extending the library service, which is threatened by cost-cutting at Somerset County Council.
It came after campaigners brought banners into the council chambers to spell out the message that closure is not an option.
They heard from Highbridge library user John Fones, who has been a resident for 13 years. He said that the service is a “vital community asset” and explained that a “strong reading culture is needed” to help local young people develop.
Cllr Janet Keen agreed, adding that “it is so sad that some local teenagers need adult literacy classes to catch up as they lack articulation and proper development.”
Resident Sheila Forrester, who has used Highbridge Library for 15 years, recited a poem to councillors on why the library is socially so important to the town. “Our local children will suffer if there is no library,” she said.
“Closing the library would be so short-sighted – Highbridge is the poor relation of the two towns and badly needs this facility,” she added.
Cllr Phil Harvey agreed, and outlined an eight-page paper he’s prepared on why the library should be saved from closure. He explained that this is for “education, deprivation and literacy reasons and to support rapid growth of the town in coming years.”
“With 1,291 extra homes coming to Highbridge in the next ten years and more to come, it’s vital that Somerset County Council considers the overall impact and needs,” he said. “They decided to save the children’s centre, so why not the library too?”
Cllr Andy Brewer responded: “We must retain the library service, but we should look at enhancing the service – just keeping it open is not enough. It needs to be improved if it’s to be successful.”
Cllr Debbie Matthews agreed: “I fully support it being kept open” and she questioned whether its use could be increased with an expansion of community groups using it.
Cllr Keen said that the number of people using the library are so important. “Usage really lets it down – there need to be more reasons to visit it.”
Cllr John Parkes said: “It absolutely must be kept open. We shouldn’t only look at usage figures, though, when it’s only open for nine and a half hours a week.”
The opening hours are a concern for Cllr Louise Parkin too, who explained: “Anyone running a business knows that operating part-time hours does not work. We need an increase in hours and for them to be spread equally across the week so everyone knows when the library is open.”
Cllr Fiona Hector added that the service is “so important to keep open” and Mayor Cllr Bill Hancock concluded: “we are all in agreement that it must be kept open.”
Town councillors voted unanimously to support the retention and expansion of Highbridge library.
The proposal accepted was “The Town Council recognises that the usage of Highbridge Library needs to improve if it is to be successful. Accordingly it expresses its willingness to work with local Parish Councils, the Library Service and other relevant bodies as part of an integrated response to enhance the offer to residents. As part of this, it will consider financial assistance.”
The final decision on the closure plans rests with Somerset County Council, which is currently consulting on the proposals.
Somerset County Council says Highbridge Library could close under its cost-cutting proposals unless local volunteers are found to keep it open.
A report considered by county councillors says the cutbacks to libraries are expected to deliver between £300,000 and £520,000 of annual savings across Somerset.