Councillors lock horns over Calderdale's library building closures

Bailiff Bridge Library
Bailiff Bridge Library

Libraries can make a difference to people’s lives and Calderdale councillors agreed they should be supported – but argued about politics and policy-making in the process.

Coun George Robinson (Con, Hipperholme and Lightcliffe) presented a motion noting the benefits libraries brought, used a “community hub” approach to developing them drawing on innovative ideas and other community buildings and calling on the council to agree no community would lose its existing library service.

He also referenced a commitment given by Cabinet member for Communities and Neighbourhood Services Coun Susan Press (Lab, Todmorden) in January when concerned she said the ruling Labour group made it absolutely clear “we’re not going to be closing libraries, what we’re looking at is how the service is delivered.”

Coun Robinson said he was concerned that the future of Bailiff Bridge’s library was in doubt, according to a Libraries Review which was taking place.

“I have realised Bailiff Bridge Library is under threat of closure,” he said.

It gave many people access to resources they do not have, said Coun Robinson.

Innovation through technology and housing them in other venues could all be looked at.

But an option the council had identified suggested Bailiff bridge Library as at risk and he asked Coun Press to clarify her statement from earlier in the year.

One of the policy options being considered by Cabinet said the Bailiff Bridge building was at the end of its life, would cost £500,000 to rebuild and other options should be sought.

An amendment proposed by Coun Helen Rivron (Lab, Ovenden) supported the aspect of working with communities and praised the council for keeping library services open amid eight years of austerity when other authorities had closed 475 of them.

“They are vital resources for all the community but especially the poorest,” she said.

Calderdale was committed to ensuring services continued across the borough and had successfully invested in a new Central Library for Halifax, refurbished Elland Library as a community hub and undertaken substantial remedial work at both Brighouse and Todmorden libraries, said her amendment.

Coun Marilyn Greenwood (Lib Dem, Greetland and Stainland) said one thing the thriving community at West Vale did not have was a library and asked the council to look at its quality of service.

Coun Howard Blagbrough (Con, Brighouse) said the council had to be more commercially minded to make money which could fund other things.

“We should be looking to use our buildings more effectively to make some money to put that into the service. Not just libraries but other buildings that are under utilised,” he said.

Coun Jenny Lynn (Lab, Park) said: “The fact we have managed to retain a library service is really a matter of pride for Calderdale,” she said.

Deputy Leader of the council, Coun Barry Collins (Lab, Illingworth and Mixenden) said Calderdale had put £2 million into libraries.

“This council has been investing in libraries and protecting library provision. There’s no need for this resolution except pure politics,” he said.

But Conservative group leader Coun Scott Benton (Brighouse) said Labour’s libraries policy was in chaos.

“The Cabinet report had every intention of closing Bailiff Bridge Library, then we see a huge U-turn. Can we have some assurances about Bailiff Bridge?” he said.

Coun Colin Raistrick (Ind, Hipperholme and Lightcliffe) said you could not say at the end of the day that if a building was not fit for purpose it would never close. Coun James Baker (Lib Dem, Warley) agreed to retain services the council had to “think outside the box” and Coun Paul Bellenger (Lib Dem, Greetland and Stainland) said people should be encouraged to join their local library.

Coun John Ford (Con, Elland) said he had earlier asked a question which revealed over a number of years the council had received £59 million in capital receipts – but had been spent mainly on revenue projects rather than capital ones like library buildings. A rethink in how capital receipts were used was necessary.

Coun Robinson said Labour’s amendment was “directly from the spin doctors” – and with voting tied at 24-24 it was not approved and Coun Robinson’s original motion was carried.