Coronavirus: Decision on Hampshire library closures put on hold

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Fair Oak in Eastleigh
Image caption,
Fair Oak Library in Eastleigh is one of the 10 facing closure

A decision on whether to close some Hampshire libraries has been put on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Up to 10 libraries had been earmarked for closure as part of county council proposals to save £1.76m.

A public consultation which ended in March had a record 21,000 responses, the authority said.

It also revealed there had been a seven-fold increase in people joining its digital service when libraries shut due to coronavirus restrictions.

'Backward and shameful'

Conservative-run Hampshire County Council launched a ten-week public consultation over the future of libraries in January as part of efforts to cut £80m from its budget.

Under the plans, the number of libraries across the county could drop from 48 to 38 and the remaining ones could see a 15% reduction in their opening hours.

Dozens of authors - including Neil Gaiman, David Nicholls and Rebecca Smith - labelled planned closures as "backward and shameful".

Image source, Alamy
Image caption,
Authors and campaigners handed in a letter of protest at Hampshire County Council offices in January

Sean Woodward, executive member for recreation and heritage, said the decision due to be taken in June would be delayed but was still expected to happen over the summer, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

He said he would be "taking into account" the rise in digital users when the responses to the consultation were being considered.

The council said in the week after coronavirus lockdown restrictions were introduced, there were 200 new users to its Borrowbox account, offering downloads of audio and e-books, compared to 23 the previous week.

The authority previously said it was "absolutely committed to providing a high-quality library service".

About 400 people work for Hampshire's library service. The sites earmarked for closure are:

  • Blackfield and Lyndhurst in the New Forest
  • Chineham and South Ham in Basingstoke
  • Elson and Lee-on-the-Solent in Gosport
  • Emsworth in Havant
  • Fair Oak in Eastleigh
  • Horndean in East Hampshire
  • Odiham in Hart

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