‘Crazy’ plan to sell library

PUBLISHED: 07:00 10 December 2010

Weston's historic library building will be sold off if the facility is absorbed by the town hall.

Weston's historic library building will be sold off if the facility is absorbed by the town hall.

Archant

OUTRAGED town figures have hit out at ‘stupid’ council plans to close and sell Weston’s historic library building and relocate the service.

North Somerset Council this week revealed it is considering moving the library service into the town hall - part of a dramatic £42.4million cost-cutting drive which the authority’s leader warns is ‘going to hurt’.

The radical plans, which also include shedding 130 jobs and trimming spending in every council department, were revealed by councillor Nigel Ashton on Monday.

The authority needs to save millions over the next four years, and Cllr Ashton - who says he remains ‘worried’ the public don’t understand the severity of the forthcoming cuts - insists a proposed £9.7million investment in the town hall, which could allow more staff and services to be housed there, will save money in the medium-term.

He said: “It might seem strange that at the same time that we are establishing how we will save £42.4million from the council’s budget over the next four years that we are considering such substantial investment at the town hall.

“However, alongside our acquisition of the Castlewood building in Clevedon earlier this year, this proposal will save money in the medium-term, provide improved access to public services for local people, as well as delivering operational benefits.”

Before any work is done the council must first spend £100,000 on a feasibility study and a further £150,000 will be spent on minor works before any major redevelopment work begins.

In preparation, the director of each council department has been asked to submit stringent new budget drafts to the executive on Tuesday.

Among the recommendations is the suggestion that Weston Library and the register office, both in the Boulevard and council-owned, could be relocated to the ground floor of the refurbished Town Hall, with the then empty buildings being sold.

However, the idea has been attacked as ‘stupid’ and ‘cultural desecration’ by town historians.

If the go-ahead is given extensive Town Hall remodelling, including upgrading all four floors and removing internal walls to make offices bigger, will have to take place.

Cllr Ashton says this would allow all library contents to be housed in a smaller floor space.

The library proposal is just one among dozens of projected cuts across all areas of council spending. Savings of £15.8million are being targeted for 2010/2011 alone. Further cost-cutting suggestions include pay freezes, job losses and millions of pounds worth of reductions in adult social services and housing, in areas such as supporting people services and transport to and from day care.

Other ideas include more than £4million savings from the children and young people’s services and cuts from corporate services and the development and environment departments.

Cllr Ashton said: “We cannot expect to achieve this scale of savings without communities, residents and employees feeling the difference, but we will continue to develop different ways of delivering services wherever possible.”

The leader said the majority of the 130 staff posts under threat are currently vacant or transferring to contractors, with about 50 council workers facing redundancy. However, he stressed the importance of community involvement in protecting services, and urged residents to step in and help the services they wish to fight for.

Helen Thornton, branch secretary of North Somerset Unison, which represents council workers, has expressed ‘serious worries’ and questioned whether the decision to borrow £14million to buy new offices in Clevedon was a good idea.

The final budget will be set at a full meeting of the council on February 22.

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