Stansted Labour Party warns that the fight to save the community’s local library is not over after Essex County Council agreed this week to pay £10,000 towards rent of the Stansted Exchange and foot the bill for the refit of the library.
Essex County Council had agreed to rent the library space in the £1.2 million building at a rent of £13,000 per annum plus a contribution to running costs. However, just days before the lease was due to be signed, ECC launched a library strategy consultation that put the library in the Tier 4 category, scheduling it for closure. The new multi-purpose building, which includes parish offices, opens next month after years of work, during which ECC committed to supporting the project.
Stansted Labour spokesman Daniel Brett, who is a member of the parish’s library working group that prepared Stansted’s response to the consultation, said: “The parish council was forced to hike its precept by around 10 percent to cover a shortfall that was mostly related to the uncertainty over the lease. It would have been better for residents if ECC could have listened to parish protests months ago so that the parish did not have to resort to raise taxes.
“The offer of £10,000 falls short of the annual rent expected and seems like the ECC is trying to squirm its way out of potential legal difficulty. It also suggests that Essex only plans to rent the space for nine months, potentially withdrawing the service in January next year. We have been handed a small amount of extra time to respond to the consultation outcome due in June, should alternative plans have to be made for the library.
“Labour supports the parish council’s position that there is firm evidence Stansted library has been wrongly classified and, based on past usage, local deprivation and rural isolation, it should be re-categorised as Tier 2 and kept open and properly staffed. We believe no libraries in Essex should face a withdrawal of services and the county council should honour its statutory responsibility to maintain a comprehensive library service.
“If Stansted and Thaxted libraries are closed, Labour will urge Uttlesford district council to step in and pay for the rent – totalling £20,000 across both libraries – and the cost of librarian staff to cover the opening hours as well as creating user groups. This could cost up to £50,000 per annum and is well within the means of UDC’s Communities and Partnerships budget.”