Gap in library service causes fears for most vulnerable, says MP

Peterlee Library, which is to be knocked down as part of clearance of the site, including the old college building next door.
Peterlee Library, which is to be knocked down as part of clearance of the site, including the old college building next door.

People struggling on benefits could have a lifeline to help service cut off because of plans to close a library for up to nine months, says an MP.

Peterlee Library is set to be moved from a building attached to the former East Durham College off Burnhope Way into the leisure centre at a cost of £1.9million.

Grahame Morris MP, Easington.

Grahame Morris MP, Easington.

The transfer will take place to allow Tesco, which owns the site, to demolish the eyesore former campus from this week, making it more attractive to a buyer after it decided to drop its plans for a superstore.

The existing library - bought by Tesco for £846,000 - is due to close in December.

But Easington MP Grahame Morris is campaigning for Durham County Council to provide internet access and more to residents in the town during the estimated nine month gap in library service for Peterlee.

He believes it could cause hardship for those on benefits, especially as the system is moving over to Universal Credit, which is based online and could lead to sanctions if they do not update their file.

I’m a member of the library and I’ve spoken to other library users who are worried about where they will go.

Councillor Louise Fenwick

The change over is being rolled out in Peterlee and Seaham from this week.

Mr Morris said: “I am concerned because it’s not just about the availability of books, and there is talk of having a mobile library, but there will be a gap in the other services it provides.

“What we have found from the discussions with the Department for Work and Pensions is that there’s a need to create some facilities near the Jobcentre in Peterlee, where people can access IT services, because Universal Credit is entirely IT-based.

“Not everyone has a smart phone or access to a tablet or laptop.

Peterlee Town Councillor, Louise Fenwick

Peterlee Town Councillor, Louise Fenwick

“Some people simply just don’t have the money to afford it.

“I have suggested to the county council they pump in money to plug that gap and use some premises in Peterlee town centre.”

Fellow Labour member and recently-elected town councillor Louise Fenwick has also received calls about the issue, as well as provision for groups who use the library.

She added: “I’m a member of the library and I’ve spoken to other library users who are worried about where they will go.

Peterlee Leisure Centre, which is also to become home to the town's library.

Peterlee Leisure Centre, which is also to become home to the town's library.

“It’s going to be a huge miss in Peterlee.”

Work has begun on fitting out a new library in the leisure centre.

Councillor Joy Allen, the county council’s cabinet member for transformation, said: “We are delighted that the investment in the new Peterlee Library will provide residents with a bright, modern space with new computer facilities and designated access for children, teens and study.

“We acknowledge there will be a period of disruption while this project is completed, but we will listen to residents and work to put effective measures in place in the interim. This could include extended hours at neighbouring libraries, a temporary service in Peterlee or outreach library-related programmes in the area.”