Darlington for Culture has reacted with disappointment to the publication today (Wed June 15) by Darlington Borough Council of its officers’ recommendations on the future of Darlington’s libraries.
The report, which goes to Cabinet on June 22 and full council on June 29, rejected the community’s proposal for a joint partnership between the council and a new community-led charitable organisation to run Crown Street Library, although does recommend a delay in closure plans for Cockerton to allow a rescue plan to be formulated.
The council says that it will press ahead with the move of Crown Street Library to the Dolphin Centre but changes to the budget proposals include:
• Deferring the closure of Cockerton Library until 31 March 2017, to allow time for Darlington for Culture to develop a business case for taking over the running of the library as a community asset
• Deferring the closure of The Bridge arts centre until 31 March 2017, to allow more time for the business case to be progressed
Councillor Bill Dixon, leader of Darlington Borough Council, said: “We recognise and acknowledge the strength of public feeling around the library proposals, which was demonstrated during the consultation. We are grateful for all the comments received and the alternative proposals that have been put forward. We have listened to and considered what people have had to say, but in the interests of providing a sustainable library service, as well as securing the long-term future of the Dolphin Centre, the recommendation is that councillors support the proposal to move the library from Crown Street.
“I would also like to reassure the public that there is no question whatsoever of the Crown Street building being demolished. Its status as a listed building means there is no chance of any future owner being able to knock it down and start again.
“At the heart of these budget proposals has been our unshakeable desire to minimise the impact of the cuts we are being forced to make on the most vulnerable members of our society.”
DfC submitted the alternative proposal for Crown Street and Cockerton Libraries on behalf of the community-led steering group set up to pull together the document and John Dean, Chair of DfC, said: “The council response on Crown Street is very disappointing. The time has come for imaginative thinking and shoehorning Crown Street Library into the Dolphin Centre is not imaginative. Our proposal was costed out and lays the foundations for further discussions during which the community and the council could forge a working relationship for the good of the town. “We are not convinced that the council’s financial arguments in favour of moving to the Dolphin Centre offer much more benefit than staying at Crown Street and increasing its revenue from activities including room hire and events.”
Once hidden costs and lost Dolphin Centre revenue from the meeting rooms and squash courts that would have to be removed are taken into account, the savings from moving compared to staying are only around £l00k per annum. That’s assuming no additional income could be generated at the Dolphin Centre or Crown Street, which we think it can.
John said: “Darlington for Culture and the organisations with whom it has worked, including the Community Libraries Steering Group and the newly-formed Friends of Darlington Libraries, will continue to campaign. The campaign to block the move of Crown Street is not over, the anger that drove almost a thousand people to protest outside Crown Street Library in March has not dissipated.
“We urge people to leave councillors in no doubt that they should oppose the council officers’ plans for Crown Street when they come to vote on them at the end of the month. We will be doing the same.”
John added: “On the positive side, we welcome the granting of extra time to pull together rescue plans for Cockerton Library and The Bridge.”