Higham Ferrers library could close as community group says it is 'unable to accept the financial challenge'

Volunteers say they cant take on the financial liability of the library.
Volunteers say they cant take on the financial liability of the library.

Volunteers will not take over the running of Higham Ferrers library because they are ‘unable to accept the financial challenge’ imposed by the county council.

The future of the under-threat library now looks very uncertain after the Higham Ferrers community library group has decided to disband because it does not think it will be able to raise the £19,000 annual rent being asked by Northamptonshire County Council, as well as the huge sums needed to repair the building in Midland Road.

The group says that short of a benefactor coming forward, the library’s doors will close and the building, which is owned by Northamptonshire county council and has been valued at £367,000, will be sold off.

The county council’s cabinet rubber stamped a controversial plan this month (May) to only keep 19 of its existing 36 libraries under statutory protection. The cuts are being made for financial reasons by the fiscally strapped authority.

This is the first of the 17 under threat Northamptonshire libraries whose community group has handed in the towel due to financial challenges.

There are fears that more will follow.

A statement released by Higham Ferrers Community Library group says: ”Although our group could take on some fund-raising for basic running costs and is willing to fully staff the library on a volunteer basis we are unable to accept the financial challenge, conscious that fund-raising is currently a crowded market-place and that our members would be liable if we failed to raise the large sums required.

It continues: “With no assistance from NCC the only sensible and practical course open is for the community library committee to be disbanded and NCC will then dispose of the property in the autumn with the consequent loss to Higham Ferrers. We would attempt to continue our current assistance with voluntary staffing cover during this time but expect the passion and enthusiasm of local residents will soon be lost with the library’s imminent demise.

“Many hours have been spent in planning and discussion without a positive and achievable outcome and, short of a generous benefactor offering to buy and restore the building or to cover the NCC rental and repair demands we have no viable alternative. Our committee members deeply regret that having tried to serve the local community in its hour of need we have failed and can do no more.”

The town council, which voted against buying the library, plans to set up a library in a proposed community centre in three years time, but the committee, which formed last September, says that by then ‘the book lending service would be a mere memory and unlikely to be revived in its present form.’

Group chairman Paul Needle said the committee members 'could not put their mortgages on the line' to pay for the running costs and were unwilling to sign up to expensive repair costs.

He said he thought the council was being unreasonable in its rent demands. The library was built in 1903 and had former uses as a community hospital and parish rooms It has been a library since the late 1960s.

The county council is asking the community groups to either buy or rent their buildings. All have been given different rent charges and the amounts have not been made public.

The 22 libraries are all facing different situations. Some, such as Desborough are being supported by their town council, whereas others like Rothwell will not receive such help.

The council, which lost an expensive high court battle last summer about an earlier libraries closure plan, carried out a consultation on its libraries proposal at the end of last year and used a variety of factors to decide which it would keep under its control.

A council spokesman said: “Plans for the long-term future of our library service have been drawn up with significant input from community groups and district, borough, town and parish councils. They have been refined following a consultation process.

“The strategy aims to retain as many libraries as possible with 17 out of the 36 libraries managed entirely by the community.

“Following May’s cabinet meeting, these community groups have until June 30 to complete their respective business cases, outlining their offer and demonstrating the viability of their proposals.

“We very much want this strategy to work and are working with the community groups to help them with this process.

“We appreciate the time that the community group at Higham Ferrers has spent in various meetings with the libraries team. In these meetings, we have explored ways in which the county council can support the group to sustain the existing library building as an interim measure, for up to three years, while the town council plan and build a new community building.

“In all of our communications with the community groups, we have been clear that to ensure equity and demonstrate value for money, we are obliged to adopt a consistent approach to the rental and purchase prices of all of the library buildings.”