Ringmer and Polegate libraries could close permanently

Seven libraries could close across East Sussex
Seven libraries could close across East Sussex

Public libraries in Wealden and Lewes could be closed permanently by the county council.

East Sussex County Council’s cabinet will be asked to approve a consultation on the library service’s strategic commissioning strategy – which includes shutting seven of 24 libraries – when it meets on Tuesday, September 19.

The seven locations earmarked for closure are Polegate, Ringmer, Mayfield, Langney, Pevensey Bay, Willingdon, and Ore.

According to the council the proposals are aimed at targeting ‘increasingly limited resources to areas where they will have the greatest impact on improving residents’ lives’, as the number of people using East Sussex libraries has fallen by 40 per cent in the last decade.

Kelly-Marie Blundell, the Lib Dems’ candidate for Lewes in June’s general election and her party’s parliamentary candidate in case of a snap election, said she was ‘appalled’ at the proposed closure of the libraries in Ringmer and Polegate.

She added: “The Conservative cuts threaten our much loved library services across the county. This is austerity going too far.

“The Conservatives are already making swingeing cuts to health and social care services, as well as brutal cuts to schools across the county.

“We are seeing our public services being dissembled under the Conservatives at local and national levels and more must be done to challenge this.”

Philip Daniel, Lib Dem County Councillor for Ringmer and Lewes Bridge, added: “I shall strongly oppose the Conservative-run county council’s plan to close Ringmer Library, and no less than six other village libraries in East Sussex.

“Part of the council’s justification is that Ringmer Library users live within a twenty minute drive or a 30 minute bus journey to Lewes Library.

“Many Ringmer residents do not have the time or the money to go to Lewes Library when it is open under its already reduced hours.

“Ringmer Library provides a valuable service to elderly people, disabled people, unemployed people, parents with children - in fact to the whole community.”

“The council’s document says the proposals ‘focus more acutely on need than before’ seeing libraries as helping children to learn to read and adults to get jobs. That fails to acknowledge that our libraries are part of our communities and help all the people within them.

“I urge everyone to object in any public consultation and to sign our petition.”

The mobile library service could also be axed, with additional support provided instead to those unable to travel to a library through the Home Library Service.

Meanwhile, a new community library card would be available, allowing the borrowing of a large number of books which could be made available to the community in venues such as village halls or community centres.

Nick Skelton, the county council’s assistant director for communities, said: “The need for significant savings, due to cuts in funding from central government, has left us with no option but to review how our library service is delivered.

“It is vital we focus our resources where they will make the biggest difference, through services which help children to learn to read and write and adults to find jobs and learn digital skills.”

He added: “The proposal to close libraries and no longer run the mobile library is not one that we make lightly.

“With reductions in funding and changes to how the service is being used, we feel this is the best way to ensure we continue to offer a comprehensive service across the whole county and play our part in improving the lives of our residents.”

The proposed network of 17 libraries would focus on areas of higher need, while reflecting the decline in demand for library visits and loans, but would continue to provide a comprehensive, accessible library service.

Mr Skelton said: “While the county’s libraries remain popular, there are far fewer visits today than there were a decade ago, while at the same time the use of elibrary has increased.

“These proposals would allow us to expand the services and materials available online.”

Should cabinet approve a consultation into the proposals, which would save the authority £653,000, library users and those who do not currently use the service will be encouraged to comment in the consultation, which would run for 12 weeks from September to December.