‘No easy decisions’: Future of six Manchester libraries still uncertain as council give campaigners June deadline

By John McDougall

Libraries across Manchester have an uncertain future after the city council’s executive committee gave campaigners until the end of June to submit proposals – or they will be closed.

Last week, the neighbourhood scrutiny committee rejected the original closure date of June 29 for libraries in Burnage, Fallowfield, Levenshulme, Miles Platting, New Moston and Northenden.

But rather than scrap the proposed closures as campaigners want, the executive instead decided today to put in place a deadline for the end of June for proposals to be put forward.

Sir Richard Leese, Manchester City Council leader, said that despite government spending cuts forcing their hand, difficult decisions still have to be made.

“These are not easy decisions but we have to do the best and that is what we will always try to do but we can’t keep everybody happy,” he said.

“This is not an open timetable and an individual solution for each area will be put in place.

“There are unfair cuts that the government are imposing on this city. What we have to do with our budget is be honest about what we can do and what we cannot do.

“These are not things we want to do and that we get elected to do.”

The council’s original plan was to shut all six libraries and replace them with smaller outreach facilities to help save £500,000 over two years.

But a consultation last week answered by more than 1,000 people showed that 60% of those who took part were opposed to the closures.

Sam Darby, of Burnage’s Green Party, spoke at the start of the meeting and stressed the consultation did not take into account the views of residents and campaigners.

“That is going to be a loss for the city and a loss for individuals,” he said. “We ask the council to realise that there are a need for these and that the executive should refuse this report.

“We do not feel that the report is an accurate representation. We want to keep our libraries just as they are.

“We recognise in our campaign in Burnage that the council is facing difficulties in terms of the costs that have imposed a real problem on the city.

“We continue to say that all the consultations are that people are not in favour of the proposals in the library report.”

The closures are part of £80million worth of funding cuts the Labour council need to make over the next two years.  

But Liberal Democrat members of the executive pleaded with their colleagues to keep the libraries open as they are, led by Withington councillor Simon Wheale.

“I think we are talking about £500,000 to save six libraries in two years and I think that is money which as a council we can find,” he said.

“It is incredibly good value that is one of the most economical spends that this council could make for residents.

“I do understand that tough decisions have to be made but we have recently found £1.5million for the airport, so why can’t we find £500,000 for two years?

“They’re so important to the community and how we can we not find nearly £500,000 to save our libraries? Let’s take every single opportunity to keep these libraries open.”

Mary Di Mauro, a Northenden Liberal Democrat councillor warned the council of making a rash decision that could impact negatively on residents across the city. 

“These proposals would be a disaster for our communities,” she said. 

“The council does not appear to have an understanding that our libraries matter for the health and wellbeing of our residents.

“There are extremely strong objections to this report. Northenden has a very strong case for a library.”

After the meeting, Councillor Rosa Battle, executive member for leisure, discussed the matter with concerned residents and campaigners and insisted the council will try and find a workable solution.

“I am confident that we will have plans in place for every individual area,” she said. “We are going to work really to make that plan and there is a real passion and momentum.

“The decision has been made and people may not agree with it. What we need to do is pull together and do the best we can in each of our areas.

“We need to make sure that solutions are right in each area. I am not going to say they are exactly the same as what we have got.”    

Picture courtesy of Amplified2010, via Flickr, with thanks.

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