Pressure mounts on Brent Council to reverse its library closures

Secretary of State Ed Vaizey has demanded a meeting with council chiefs over the controversial cuts

Pressure is mounting on Brent Council to reverse its decision to shut half its libraries after the Government demanded a meeting with officers to discuss the controversial plans.

Ed Vaizey, secretary of state for culture, has called the meeting following complaints that the council has breached its legal duty to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient library service’, under the 1964 Public Libraries Act.

The intervention is the latest controversy which has shone a spotlight on Brent’s library closures.

In the same week, the council received a letter from well respected solicitors Bindmans, outlining a claim for a judicial review brought by two library users.

If the case is successful, the council could have to reverse its closures and may face a hefty legal bill.

Cllr Paul Lorber (Lib Dem: Sudbury), whose letter sparked Mr Vaizey’s intervention, said the council has refused to meaningfully engage with community groups that want to take over the running of the reading rooms, leaving campaigners with no other option but to seek a national intervention.

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He said: “The letter is extremely helpful because it shows us that the Government does have some concerns because it has an obligation to ensure that local authorities provide a comprehensive library service.

“Brent Council should be concerned that it is being scrutinised so closely.”

Council chiefs have come under heavy criticism after they voted to axe half the borough’s libraries despite vehement opposition from residents.

Some 82 per cent of residents who took part in the consultation said they didn’t want the libraries to close, and popular authors Zadie Smith, Philip Pullman and Clash guitarist Mick Jones have all pledged their support to the campaign to save them.

Despite this opposition, the Labour executive voted unanimously to close reading rooms in Kensal Rise, Cricklewood, Preston, Neasden, Tokyngton and Barham Park.

Library campaigners claim this decision is unlawful because the council failed to carry out a thorough equalities impact assessment, provided factual information which was misleading, and set their budget slashing the libraries budget four days before official consultation on the closures finished.

Laura Collignon, a Brent libraries campaigner, said: “The executive are determined to pursue the plan they have adopted and they are not prepared to consider anything else. Their minds have been made up.

A Brent Council spokeswoman confirmed it has received a letter from Mr Vaizey’s office. Commenting on the legal challenge she added: ”The council is considering its response but is confident that the decision was properly and lawfully made.”