Still a chance Higham Ferrers library could re-open in former building

The library closed its doors on December 31st and is up for sale but the county council is in talks with potential buyers who would give space for a library.

Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 11:38 am
Updated Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 11:48 am
Strategic libraries manager Anne Lovely (second right) says she has not given up hope on the former library building being once used once more as a book venue.

The woman in charge of handing over 22 of Northamptonshire’s 36 libraries to community groups says she is still hopeful a library can remain in Higham Ferrers.

The library in Midland Road closed its doors on December 31 and the historic building was put up for sale as part of Northamptonshire County Council’s plans to sell off assets and reduce running costs.

The Higham Ferrers Community Library Group (HFCLG) group had declared itself out of the running earlier in the year to take on the lease and building maintenance responsibility, saying that it was too big a financial burden for a group of volunteers.

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The building is now up for sale.

This means that so far Higham Ferrers is the only one of the original 17 under threat libraries that has had to shut its doors. But now strategic libraries manager Anne Lovely says a library council could still remain in the old building.

Speaking at the opening of the new community library in Rothwell last Friday she said: “I’m still hopeful and I don’t give up on a library.

“The building is on the market and I have had discussions with two interested buyers who would be open to some area of the building being used as a community library.”

The news has been cautiously welcomed by HFCLG chairman Higham Paul Needle and thinks the town council have misread the mood of residents in not buying the library.

At the town council meeting last Wednesday he had expressed his concern at the town council not stepping in to help keep the library building, which is the town’s only community building, open.

There had been plans muted to open a library in a proposed community hall, but those plans now seem to be moving slowly.

He said: “I was in the library on the final day of opening and witnessed the tears and the anger of local people at what had happened. And in my regular contact with people in the local community I have to tell you that the anger remains as people begin to understand that Higham is the only library in the county to have been closed and that makes our town a disgrace in the local area.

The pain which is being felt by our residents is not helped when they learn that Wellingborough Council has assisted community libraries in Finedon and Earls Barton or that Burton Latimer Council has purchased their library building for community volunteer operation.

I have to tell you that with the loss of Higham’s library the increasing feeling is that our town council could and should have done more, not just for the booklending service but to protect our only surviving community facility.

During the discussions with the County Council their documents record their understanding that the library here could be closed as it would move to the planned new Community Centre in Saffron Road. But I am informed by this council that a new building is not actually planned but the idea is merely being examined and it may or may not happen, depending on the cost, planning issues and, for that matter, the members who could well be different after the elections in May when some residents will voice their displeasure about the loss of our library at the ballot box.

So we now have no library, no valuable community building and all for a Castle in the Air in Saffron Road.”

Higham Ferrers council leader Cllr Pam Whiting said the town council had decided at an extraordinary meeting back in May 2018 that it could not afford to buy the building from NCC. She also said that plans for a new community building which could house a library are still at very early stages.

She said: “The council felt that the council’s cost of £755,000 was not a proper use of council funds. We would also have had to borrow money to fund it. The council felt that the finances would be better spent by putting into a new building rather than one that had not been maintained by Northamptonsire County Council.”

The £755,000 cost was made up of purchase costs, running costs and necessary repairs.

A number of libraries have been handed over to community groups in recent weeks. Rothwell library is now being run by an innovative partnership between a charity and an academy trust.