The High Court in London has ruled against Lincolnshire County Council’s decision to close 30 libraries in favour of community hubs.
The ruling, announced on July 17, means the County Council will have to review again its current plans.
The result follows a two-day hearing earlier in the month, after a Simon Draper, campaigner for Save Lincolnshire Libraries, took the council to the High Court over their decision to cut library services.
According to the council’s plans, 30 libraries across the county would close in order to make savings of £1.7 million due to government cuts, with some 170 jobs lost in the process.
The closed libraries would be replaced by “community hubs”, which would be managed by local community groups, individuals, or businesses such as Lincolnshire Co-op.
The council will now have to undertake another period of consultation over the plans before being reviewed by the council’s Executive.
It will also consider a bid from Greenwich Leisure Ltd, a company looking to take on the entire Lincolnshire service.
In a statement regarding the ruling, judge Mr Justice Collins said: “I have decided that the means by which the County Council decided and reached their decision was flawed, in two respects.
“In respect of the consultation, and of their failure to properly deal with an application by a charitable organisation [Greenwich Leisure Limited] which already ran library service for two London boroughs, Greenwich and Woolwich.
“I have decided that the decision made in December last year should be quashed.”
“Victory for democracy”
Save Lincolnshire libraries campaigners who were present at the two-day hearing are extremely pleased with the outcome, and hope the council will learn from the outcome.
Campaigner Simon Draper said: “We are simply over the moon. As soon as the full judgment was reached and read out, we had a big group hug and started phoning everybody.
“I want to thank the people of Lincolnshire for standing with me against the council in this, we really are not to be walked over!”
John Hough, Leader of the Labour opposition at the County Council, and spokesperson for Save Lincolnshire Libraries, said:
“This is an historic day for the people of Lincolnshire. In their tens of thousands, they have refused to bow down to the arrogant and unyielding power of the County Council.
“We as Save Lincolnshire Libraries want to give a huge thank you to the thousands of people who have supported our campaign to keep libraries in Lincolnshire. Without their support this case would never have come to the High Court and the county council would have got away with an unlawful decision.
“We hope this decision will mean that people throughout Lincolnshire will continue to be able to access a properly run public library service which will continue to be run by experienced staff, supported by volunteers.
“Today is a victory for ordinary people and for democracy over a powerful institution that misused its power to try and impose its own political ideology on people in Lincolnshire, whether they wanted it or not.”
Angela Montague added: “A victory for Lincolnshire and for democracy, the council have bullied and blocked us at every step of this process, I am delighted that standing up to the bullies has resulted in a win – as it always should. Goliath met David today in the High Court.”
Disappointed and ironic
Richard Wills, Executive Director, said: “We are, of course, disappointed with the decision.
“We believe that our proposals would have increased library provision in the county, while also making substantial savings, meaning taxpayers would be getting a much better deal.
“The judge agreed there was a need to make savings, that our proposals would meet our statutory duties and that we’d carefully considered the impact on all residents.
“However, his decision means we will now need to undertake further consultation and re-examine the proposal from Greenwich Leisure Ltd.
“Ironically, although we must consider that proposal as a community offer to take over the council’s services under the Localism Act, it could lead to the library service being put out to procurement and outsourced to a commercial organisation.
“We will now address the points raised by the judge and remain open-minded. However, we need to take time to consider the best way forward, and will announce our next steps in the near future.
“In the meantime, we’ll continue to keep in close contact with the communities wanting to become involved in running library services.
“What this judgement doesn’t change is the need for us to find further yearly savings of £90 million by 2018.”