NINE libraries across Sunderland have today closed their doors for good.
Sunderland City Council agreed to shut the nine – Doxford Park, Easington Lane, East Herrington, Fence Houses, Hendon, Monkwearmouth, Silksworth, Southwick and Washington Green – in an effort to modernise services and save an estimated £850,000.
Despite passionate appeals by protesters, the controversial decision was rubber-stamped by the council’s ruling cabinet last month.
Members of Hands Off Sunderland Libraries, who fought the closure plans, have slammed the decision as “undemocratic”.
Elaine Palmer, from Southwick, said the closure of her local library in Beaumont Street would leave children from less well-off families without access to books.
Elaine regularly visited the library with son Andrew, nine, and daughter Carrie Anne, seven.
She said: “My children go to Grange Park Primary School, and since my son started reception, the school has been very much about improving literacy and getting children to read, and obviously in this kind of area, in order to get the children to continue to read you need a library.”
Now the family’s nearest libraries are in Fulwell or the city centre, which Elaine fears some people will struggle to get to.
“For anyone who has to find the bus fare or walk with young children, it is not easy,” she said.
“My son has had a library card since he was about four weeks old. He was looking forward to getting to an age where he was allowed to go to the library on his own, but I won’t let him go to the town or Fulwell on his own.”
Elaine rejects the council’s argument that hundreds of thousands of pounds have been slashed from its budget.
“I am sure they need to save money, and there are lots of other ways of saving money,” she said.
“I can’t see why they can’t have the libraries on reduced hours.
“Once the economy improves, we will still have the libraries, but once they are closed, they are gone.
“This council have a track record of hitting hardest the people who are less able to fight back.”
Councillor John Kelly, portfolio holder for public health, wellness and culture, said: This is a very emotive subject, and we recognise the strength of people’s feelings.
“As I’ve said before, we probably wouldn’t have gone down this route if the council didn’t need to make £110million savings as a result of cuts from central government.
“The fact is the library service needs to save £850,000, so we have had to look at changing how we do things as budgets continue to be cut and resources become ever more stretched. As councillors, we have to make difficult decisions. Had savings not been made here, they may have had to fall on children’s or adults services.
“But I firmly believe that the new library service will be much more flexible to fit in with people’s needs and will result in better services reaching more people across a wider range of locations.”