A CONTENTIOUS plan to relocate one of the busiest libraries in Hampshire has been given the green light.
Hampshire County Council has approved plans to move Emsworth library from St Peter’s Square into the town’s community centre in North Street before the lease on the current library building expires in 2018.
More than 1,000 people signed a petition calling for the library to stay put and around 70 per cent of people in a consultation wanted it to remain in the town centre.
Hampshire County Council said the move will save around £30,000 a year.
The library receives an average of 83 visits every hour, but costs almost £76,000 a year to run.
Emsworth councillor Brendan Gibb-Gray praised the move: “We are delighted the long term future of Emsworth Library has been secured. The Emsworth Community Association (ECA) is negotiating with Hampshire Library Services to ensure their premises provide an excellent new home in which the library will strive and prosper. A tremendous amount of work has been carried out by the trustees of ECA and they deserve the appreciation of our residents for sticking to the task and securing the future of our much loved library.”
But not all residents are happy about the decision.
The Friends of Emsworth Library group launched a campaign to stop the relocation, saying: “The disadvantage is the location. The premises are difficult to get to on foot from the village centre, involving the awkward crossing of either the main road or North Street.
“Car park access is also tricky. Extra traffic within the car park is likely to clog it up altogether.”
“While it’s a shame the library will move, users want it to stay in its present premises for as long as possible,” said library campaigner Bob Smyth.
“There are three years left on its lease, but the county council wants to move as soon as possible. A lot of work needs to be done to make the community centre premises suitable for use, though. The fire station car park needs clear pedestrian routes and the North Street crossing from the underpass is very dangerous, especially for those with limited mobility.
“And the last Community Association meeting was told of a possible rising damp problem making the old school room floor not safe for the weight of books.
“If the former Cottage Hospital is going to become the doctors’ surgery, it’s going to mean years of building works adjacent next to the centre.
“And while HCC staff have been asked to identify alternative uses for the existing premises, it is hard to see them becoming anything else other than another estate agents or similar.”
Councillor Keith Chapman, in charge of libraries in Hampshire, made the decision.
He said: “Moving libraries out of stand alone buildings into larger community buildings where costs can be shared is an effective way of making budget savings without impacting on the service. The move is as an opportunity to install new self service equipment so opening hours can be increased, and to buy a wide range of new books and resources for the library.”
The community centre, run by the ECA, has already been awarded a grant of £100,000 for refurbishments to turn it into a community hub for Emsworth.
ECA chairman Mike Stott said: “The needs of our members and user groups remain the trustees’ top priorities. In order to ensure the future of the library, we hope to be able to agree to site it in the lounge and half of the assembly room. The library will use this space for the time it is normally open, that is six mornings, two afternoons and Friday evenings.
“At other times, the space will be available for user groups as library equipment (apart from book shelves along the walls) will be moveable and stored elsewhere.
“Trustees hope to start work in the summer of 2015 on improving the premises and facilities of the community centre.”