High Court battle looms from Brent Council over library closures
Library campaigners have lodged the claim with the High Court
Brent Council is facing a judicial review over its decision to close half its libraries in what could be a test case for embattled authorities across the UK axing their reading rooms.
Library campaigners issued the claim at the High Court against the controversial decision to close six reading rooms in Kensal Rise, Cricklewood, Preston, Tokyngton, Barham Park and Neasden,
Bindmans solicitors, who represent the campaigners, argue that Brent’s decision making process was legally flawed even before the consultation opened because officers failed to first assess local needs and the likely impact of their
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John Halford, a partner at Bindmans solicitors firm who represent the library campaigners, said the claimants and the council were eager for the case to be heard as soon as possible, and hoped that a date would be set before the end of July.
Mr Halford said: “We have a strong case. This was a process where right from the very start Brent decided it was going to make money cuts by closing libraries. It consulted, but everything was drawn by this imperative and all other things were dropped from consideration.
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“The one thing that should have been considered was the alternatives that were put forward by those voluntary groups. But Brent said it could not look at those because they said the only way a library service can be run was through the council. And they insisted that these alternatives must be at no cost to the council.”
Brent Council cut the budget for its library service at the end of February – four days before the official consultation on the planned closures ended. The decision was finalised in April despite vehement opposition from residents.
Playwright Alan Bennett, author Zadie Smith and The Clash guitarist Mick Jones are among the celebrities who have thrown their support behind the fight to save them.
Mr Halford added: “Another major error was the order Brent did things. It consulted, then it decided what it thought it needs were and what the impact of the proposals are likely to be, but it should have done things the other way round.”
If the challenge succeeds, Brent Council’s closure plans will be overturned.
Other councils planning to shut libraries have had judicial review claims brought against them, however, because both parties involved in the Brent case want it to be heard speedily, Mr Halford believes this could be the first to be heard at the High Court.
It would serve as a test case for other campaigns bringing similar actions against their councils.
The claim offers a temporary reprieve to the libraries, as it is unlikely they will be closed until the legal case has been concluded.
Brent Council says it can still fulfil its duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service under the 1964 Libraries and museums Act with its six remaining libraries, and says it thinks the decision was lawfully made.
The closures will save the council an estimated �1million a year.