Doubts over volunteer and move plan for Hoole library


Jim Green

OPPOSITION councillors have expressed doubts about plans to relocate Hoole Library and run it with volunteers.

Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) has proposed moving the library from its current Hoole Road base to Hoole Community Centre.

The council says the ageing wooden library is no longer fit for purpose and could be forced to close at short notice.

Under the plans, librarians are to transfer to other branches and the new library will be run mainly by volunteers with some support from a librarian.

But Labour group councillors are unhappy with the proposals and say they indicate a wider threat to the borough’s library services.

Hoole councillor Alex Black said: “Everyone knows Hoole’s library is located in an inadequate building but the proposal to sell the land on which the library stands and the building next to it will net the council a handsome profit.

“We believe money should be used to retain the professional staff currently employed in the library in a fit-for-purpose location.

“Volunteers have a role to play but they can’t replace the professionals currently working in Hoole. I believe the council could make a different choice based on a consultation with local residents and the people who use the library.”

Should the library move to the Westminster Road community centre, it will be based in two rooms and feature a bigger children’s section along with an adult section.

But Cllr Louise Gittins, culture spokesman for the Labour group, believes the move raised questions over the council’s commitment to libraries.

She said: “The coalition government nationally has no strategy for the future of library services.

“Only this week Labour minister Dan Jarvis MP called on the government to prove it is committed to retaining vital library services in our communities before it is too late.

“Similarly, I am concerned this move in Hoole may signal a weakening commitment to library services in Cheshire West and Chester.”

Labour group leader Justin Madders said the plans were another example of the council cutting services and relying on communities to take them over.

He said: “We are very concerned by this creep towards the destruction of council services under the guise of community ownership.

“While we have no problem with the community getting involved in the running of services where they want to, it seems this council's policy is to present this as the only option available to people if they want to see services maintained.

“It isn’t the only option – volunteering is an enhancement to local services not a replacement for them.

“This kind of approach is creeping in across the country and unless we draw a line in the sand now public services as we know them will cease to exist.”

A Cheshire West and Chester Council spokesman said: “Due to Hoole Library’s significant structural problems our main aim now is to ensure the continuation of library provision within the Hoole area for the benefit of local residents.

“The current situation, with librarians working alone on a now empty site, also presents significant security issues especially as winter begins to set in.

“We have been working closely with local members and community groups to develop a solution that provides a positive location for the library while also helping to sustain an existing facility.

“We are still awaiting a formal response from the Hoole Community Trust. Until we have that, discussions regarding staffing are premature.”

See full story in the Chester Leader

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