A PROPOSAL is being made to keep all libraries open by reducing opening hours as protests over planned closures gather pace.

North Yorkshire Liberals are to put forward a motion for debate at next Wednesday’s meeting of the county council calling for all smaller libraries to be kept open but with reduced hours.

They are also calling for a reduction in opening hours of the main libraries and the retention of six of the 10 mobile libraries, while plans for a super mobile library are abandoned.

Coun John Clark said the present proposals in the library consultation were very unfair and would mean that libraries in smaller towns and the mobile service to the villages would take virtually all the pain.

He said: “We have analysed the figures behind the consultation. Our proposals will keep all the branch libraries and the mobile library service.

“In the present climate of massive disproportionate ConDem cuts to local government, it is still necessary to make £1 million savings in the coming year from the library budget.

“This means that all libraries will have to have reduced opening hours and offer a less comprehensive service.”

North Yorkshire County Council’s library service was being asked to make savings of £2.3 million reducing the number of libraries from 42 to 18.

A public meeting on Monday evening in Norton, whose library is earmarked for closure, heard that one of the possibilities was a combined centre of excellence.

Chrys Mellor, general manager for libraries, said: “For a number of years we have been looking at combining the two libraries in Norton and Malton to create one centre of excellence which would be more cost-effective and provide improved facilities for both communities.

“Malton library is bursting at the seams and is not fit for purpose and it has always been our intention to provide a modern building with library facilities for the area.”

Ms Mellor added that it was difficult to justify retaining both libraries which were less than a mile apart when some residents could be 15 miles from their nearest library.

One of the sites under consideration is the former Harrison House, near the railway station, which Ryedale District Council is currently in the process of buying to rehouse Ryedale Voluntary Action and the Citizens Advice Bureau from their present location in Wentworth Street car park.

However, concerns were expressed over the size of the building, limited parking facilities and the extra distance users, particularly children, would have to walk.

Coun David Lloyd Williams, a member of both town councils, said he feared officers had already made their minds up to combine the two libraries.

He said: “The location being looked at is not the best for the inhabitants of Norton or Malton, particularly those in Norton who will have a very dangerous walk to get there.

“Parking at the station is also limited whereas now we have free parking behind the library and easy access for the disabled.”

Other residents queried that both libraries were not being compared ‘like for like’.

Norton resident Maggie Collins said she was a regular user of the town’s library and would be devastated if it closed.

“Malton is named as a core library but why isn’t Norton,” she added.

“It is open for fewer hours but used to a far greater extent and is always full and used all the time by schoolchildren.

“Norton had a far greater population and it is not easy getting across the crossing to Malton – the council should listen to what people have to say.”

However, Norton town mayor Coun Paul Farndale said he felt a decision had already been made on the library’s future.

“From what I heard it is all cut and dried and this has been on the cards for some time,” he added.

In Kirkbymoorside, more than 260 people, including a large number of children, packed the town’s library on Saturday morning at a “sit-in” organised by retired primary headteacher and town councillor Chris Dowie.

Coun Dowie said it had been a great success.

“We wanted to demonstrate the strength of feeling there is about the library and how we want to see it retained,” she said.

“Many people don’t have a computer at home but use those at the library for such things is tracing job vacancies and completing CVs.”

She added it was wrong that Church House, which had been redeveloped at public expense about two years ago to provide a new library and one-stop centre for community facilities, should now be faced with the closure of the library.

“As a former headteacher I know how valuable a library is to children as young as four. It gives them a head start when they go to school full-time and gets them into the habit of reading which stays with them.”

She and her supporters have so far collected 300 signatures from residents who want the library saved.

A public meeting is being held in Kirkbymoorside tomorrow (Thursday) at 7pm at the Methodist Church Hall, organised by County Coun Val Arnold, who is also having a meeting at Helmsley Town Hall on Wednesday, February 16 at 7pm to discuss the future of the market town’s library.

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Budget cuts mean savings must be made, but should our libraries face the axe?

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