Nina Lakhani, Friday 8 July 2011
Library campaigners fighting the closure of Gloucestershire's public libraries won a stay of execution after a judge granted permission to challenge the legality of the council's plans.
Library users across the country were last night overjoyed by the decision to allow residents to judicially review the council's decision to completely withdraw or restrict funding from two thirds of the county's libraries. An interim injunction means the council cannot close any of the libraries until the case is heard this autumn.
Desmond Clarke, former director of Faber and Faber publishers, said the ruling was "fantastic news" which would "embarrass" libraries minister, Ed Vaizey, who has become a hate figure for campaigners.
Libraries have become the focus of bitter political battles and legal action as users fight to prevent around 500 closures from South Wales to Yorkshire to London. Councils insist they must make difficult choices in order to meet government demands for £6.5bn of savings.
This legal action comes after more than 15,000 Gloucestershire residents failed to convince council leaders to reconsider the plans which they say will leave the most vulnerable residents without a vital public service. Lawyers will argue that the council's planned cuts would mean it no longer met its statutory duty to provide "comprehensive and efficient" library services for all residents. The council will also have to prove that it did properly consult local people and that disadvantaged communities would not be disproportionately affected.
Demelza Jones, from Friend's of Gloucestershire, said people were overjoyed because their concerns would "be heard in an objective and unbiased setting." Mark Hawthorne, Leader of Gloucestershire County Council, said: "We have always been confident in our library strategy. I'm pleased that we only have to wait until September for the full hearing."
The news came on the same day that Brent residents, fighting six closures, heard that the case will be heard in the High Court on 19 and 20 July. The Isle of Wight action is also on track after a resident was granted legal aid to fight five closures.