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Kent County Council considers selling off up to one-third of libraries to make savings

Kent’s 99 public library buildings are under threat of being sold off to save money, council bosses have announced.

Cash-strapped Kent County Council’s deputy leader Peter Oakford said the disposals could come in the 2025-26 budget.

Kent History and Library Centre opened in 2012
Kent History and Library Centre opened in 2012

He claimed that Kent has "far too many libraries".

The authority, which runs the library service, must find tens of millions of pounds worth of savings in the face of squeezed government funding and rising costs.

Conservative-run KCC recently shelved the proposed closure of four of the county’s rubbish tips after a massive public outcry.

According to one well-placed source, one third of the libraries in Kent could be affected but the overall anticipated saving is not yet known.

Liberal Democrat opposition group leader, Cllr Antony Hook, claimed residents' reaction to the loss of libraries is likely to be akin to “the tips on stilts”.

Lenham Library is one of 99 ran by Kent County Council
Lenham Library is one of 99 ran by Kent County Council

He said libraries are "essential" community resources used by residents of all ages, as well as valued meeting places for local groups.

Cllr Oakford told the policy and resources cabinet committee on Wednesday (Jan 17) libraries could be “sold or disposed of” to local community groups such as parish councils.

But he added that KCC will not be “gifting” library buildings to outside bodies such as parish councils.

Cllr Oakford told members: “I think we’re all aware that Kent has far too many libraries. We have more libraries per head than any other organisation or local authority in the country. We currently have 99 libraries.

“The administration will bring a proposal forward sometime this year to see where libraries can be sold or disposed of to local communities, such as parish councils, or other organisations if we were to deem that we would want to carry on running them as a library and perhaps if a parish wanted to keep a library in their area.

Cllr Peter Oakford has said their are ‘too many libraries’ in Kent
Cllr Peter Oakford has said their are ‘too many libraries’ in Kent

“The thing that we will not be doing is gifting these buildings, and when this has happened in the past, KCC has passed a building over to a local parish council as an example but has retained the liability for that building, so we’ve had to carry on paying the maintenance etc. this is something we can no longer afford to do.

"This is my red line that we will not be gifting buildings. We will be bringing forward a proposal sometime in 2024”.

After the meeting, Cllr Antony Hook, leader of the Liberal Democrat on KCC said: “We are appalled at this Conservative plan to cut libraries. They appear to have learned nothing from their disastrous scheme to put household waste centres (tips) up for closure which was beaten back by public pressure.

"Libraries are essential - Kent's libraries are used by thousands of people every week. Not only do they provide free access to books, newspapers, audio books and other resources they also provide free Internet and computer facilities for everyone.

"I use my local library with my young children every few weeks. It is always busy with people of all kinds but, particularly, young families, older people and school and college students.

Jacky Offen says Lenham Library would be sorely missed if it was to close
Jacky Offen says Lenham Library would be sorely missed if it was to close

"Many of the people who used libraries rely on it being relatively local to them and could not easily travel to another town's library. Taking library services away will increase people's cost of living further.

"Many of Kent's libraries have other vital community uses. Some clubs and societies meet in them. In Faversham, our library has a changing spaces area which is vital for some disabled people to visit the town centre. Libraries also provide registration of births and deaths. Do we really want to make new parents or bereaved people travel further for registration services?"

Read more: ‘My son missed our library most during lockdown – don't take them away for good’

Jacky Offen, a retired KCC worker, who uses her local village library in Lenham, said it is a "crucial" part of the local community.

The Liverton Hill resident added: "I come in a couple of days a wek to use the library and it is very well used by others.

"They've just spent a load of money on giving it a revamp and extended the opening hours so it would be a terrible shame if it were to go. I think a lot of people would be very upset.

"I understand that it all comes down to money in the end and the council has to make decisions but this would be a mistake. It's a crucial part of the village."

John Britt from Lenham Parish Council
John Britt from Lenham Parish Council

Lenham Parish Council chairman John Britt described any closure as "madness".

Cllr Britt said: "People of all ages use our little library and it is nearly always busy. It would, in my view, be complete madness to contemplate trying to shut it or sell it."

Cllr Harry Rayner, deputy cabinet member for finance told members “there is no policy for the disposal of any libraries, as things stand, but this cannot be ruled out, and there maybe a reduction in the number of libraries”.

He said library buildings should not be given away but continued community use should be favoured.

But he added: “I would not look favourably on a situation where supermarkets take former public buildings for use against existing village shops."

Cllr Rayner said KCC will argue that libraries are "semi-discretionary" in terms of council spending but would have to work with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport ironing out the details.

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