Darlington Council considers U-turn over library closure

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Image caption,
Darlington Council will announce its next steps regarding the future of the service in the coming weeks

A council which planned to close a town centre library to save £300,000, is now considering reversing the decision and spending £2m on improving the site.

Councillors in Darlington voted in 2016 to relocate the Crown Street facility to the town's Dolphin Leisure Centre.

But newly-elected leader Stephen Harker said it would now be difficult to find an alternative use for the building.

Mr Harker, who commissioned a report into the impact of closing Crown Street, said: "Since the decision was made two years ago, things have changed a lot, in particular the challenges faced by the town centre retailers.

"We felt, before finally implementing the decision, it was appropriate to consider whether it is still the right decision to make.

"I have considered the report and will be recommending to my colleagues that we overturn the decision and instead look to revitalise the Crown Street building by investing up to £2m in its modernisation and repairs."

Image caption,
Plans to relocate Central Library to the Dolphin Centre prompted a public protest in 2016

Earlier this year campaigners mounted a legal challenge against the council's consultation process over the future of the Grade II-listed library.

But in June the High Court ruled that the council's decision to close the site should stand.

Mr Harker added: "It was important to demonstrate in court that our consultation had been fair and proper.

"But finding an alternative use for Crown Street now feels much less likely than when the decision was made."

Darlington has recently lost its long-established Marks & Spencer store and Mr Harker said the town's High Street was facing tough times.

He said the council's "slightly improved finances" over the past 12 months meant keeping Crown Street open was now a viable option.

The council's cabinet will consider the report later this month.

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