Harlow Council has written to Essex County Council calling for the proposed closure of libraries

Harlow Council has written to Essex County Council calling for the proposed closure of libraries in Harlow to be reconsidered.

The joint letter from the Leader of Harlow Council, Councillor Mark Ingall and the Leader of the Opposition, Councillor Andrew Johnson, has been sent to Councillor Sue Barker, the Cabinet Member for Customer and Corporate at Essex County Council. In the letter, which has also been copied to the Leader of Essex County Council, Councillor David Finch, Councillor Barker has been asked to meet the leaders to discuss their concerns over the possible closures.

Essex County Council is currently carrying out public consultation on plans for future library services across Essex. The consultation runs until 20 February 2019.

The joint letter follows a unanimous vote of Harlow Council on 18 December 2019, which agreed that a letter would be sent to the County Council urging them to keep all of Harlow’s libraries open.

The letter states that: “The planned closure of the tier 4 libraries at Tye Green and Mark Hall, and the probable closure of the tier 3 library at Great Parndon, would represent a hammer blow to communities in Harlow.”

The letter goes on to say: “Whilst accepting that footfall in libraries has fallen, those users that remain are reliant on the services that they provide. The skilled staff in libraries help foster a love of reading in the young, provide a quiet study area for older children and can recommend reading material for the elderly, but libraries provide much more beside.

“Libraries provide access to free broadband, a vital tool for those looking for work, updating Universal Credit applications, applying for school places, even booking school dinners. While many of us can do these things from the comfort of our homes, the least well off in society that cannot afford broadband at home cannot.

“Libraries also provide important meeting points for the community. Social isolation, particularly that of young mothers, people on limited incomes, and the elderly, is a national concern. It creates costs for other services, especially those associated with mental health. It is the cost to the individuals which of greatest concern though. Libraries provide a warm, safe meeting place which is free at the point of use. This makes libraries an essential service in combatting social isolation which should not and cannot be cut in any attempt to make savings.

“Libraries are also used as community hubs, occasional gallery spaces and for public meetings., Harlow’s County Councillors even use our libraries to hold some of their surgeries. We would urge you to look at the approach of other councils who have adapted the service their libraries provide. We understand our libraries need to change, but this cannot be achieved if they are closed.

“The threat to close three of five libraries in Harlow runs completely against the needs of the town and as a result we would ask that you respond to this letter by 31 January, setting out what your current plans for Harlow’s libraries are, along with any specific considerations and comments about the libraries that are earmarked for closure.

The letter concludes: “We would also like to request a meeting with you in early February so that we discuss our concerns about the possible closures in Harlow. We feel that this can be a constructive meeting where we can also look to find a solution which would ensure the long term future of Harlow’s libraries. We look forward to your response.”