Today (18th April) was decision day by Hampshire County Council about the future of its libraries. A draft strategy had been prepared following one of the largest ever public consultations by the county.
One of the main aspects of the plan was to put the county’s libraries into four ‘tiers’, reflecting their size and importance. The top two tiers were essentially guaranteed their future, and have the best existing opening hours.
Like other responses to the consultation, I pointed out that, based on usage data provided my local library in Yateley had been placed in the wrong tier – ‘Tier 3’ rather than ‘Tier 2’. This meant that, if confirmed, in a year’s time, the library could close, or be handed over to volunteers to run.
Despite a water-tight case, we were ignored in the council’s draft response to the consultation, issued in March, so I took to the local media, and I know others to lobbying. You can read more of my arguments below.
There is no question that we are right, and in the council’s announcement today, they have had to insert a paragraph, finally dealing with the issue. However, that’s as good as it gets!
Despite the catchment area and usage figures unquestionably making Yateley a ‘Tier 2’ library, and the council recognising its ‘school library’ status as ‘unique’, it has remained a ‘Tier 3’ library in the decision – which means Yateley Library’s status in the medium term remains uncertain. The points made about lack of family activities and adult learning opportunities are not something I recognised – and might be something that could be rectified were it open on Wednesdays, and after 5pm on other days. Absurd!
I feel really let down by the quality of local democratic decision-making. This is unquestionably a bad decision. Do Conservative-run Hampshire County Council ignore the town of Yateley because it has had the temerity to return Liberal Democrats as county councillors?
I read more carefully, and discovered that between the original draft of the strategy document, and this final version, a ‘new’ paragraph had been ‘retro-fitted’ to explain how each library’s tier status had been decided (see below), so that Yateley conveniently sits just below the catchment area figure of up to 25,000 to justify ‘Tier 3’ status (Yateley is said to have a catchment of 24,803, although whether this includes new developments, or Eversley is unclear). No one is convinced – this was never in the original documentation.
I owe so much to Yateley Library. We had no books in my house as a child. I spent hours in the place, and it stood me in good stead, helping me to get to University at Sussex, and then a career in public relations, including at BBC Radio 1, in parliament, and the civil service. A second career as a lecturer meant that I have seen again the importance of young students coming to university not only with a love of books, but with an ability to navigate a library. Yateley’s ‘Tier 3’ status already restricts the number of days it opens, its opening hours – and now leaves a question mark over its longer term future.
Today I have no alternative but to leave a ‘bad review’ for Hampshire County Council’s decision, but a big ‘thank you’ to everyone connected with Yateley Library! The huge response to the consultation underlined the importance of this issue to local people. I am grateful to the council for at least taking notice of the point we were raising, but feel deep disappointment at their inability to see it as anything other than nimby-ism, and as such, even having to retro-fit the paragraph in red above, so their plans make sense. Very poor form.