Row over ‘sale’ of Irchester library

Irchester library.
Irchester library.

Northamptonshire County Council is attempting to sell back to a parish council a 100-year-old Carnegie library that it acquired from it without payment more than 50 years ago.

Irchester residents are up in arms about the county authority’s insistence that Irchester parish council pays £195,000 for the library in High Street.

The parish council has now involved Secretary of State in charge of libraries Matt Hancock in the matter and is calling on the county authority to give back the library without charge.

It says it does not have the funds spare and will have to take a public works loan to buy back the library.

The county council says it acquired the library free of charge in 1964 under the Public Libraries and Museums Act when it took over the running of the library.

The village library was built by the parish council in 1909 using a £1,000 gift from the famous philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The land was donated by local landowner Lady Wantage.

Irchester parish council clerk Nikki Daft said parish council minute books from the 1960s recorded that the county authority told the parish it could not continue to run the library.

She said: “They took it lock, stock and barrel and it didn’t cost them anything.

“We feel that it is a cheek for the county council to now ask the parish to pay for it. We would now call on the county council to change its mind as this is a unique situation and the library was built by the parish for the community.”

NCC did not register the library with the land registry until five years ago.

Irchester parish councillor Tim Maguire said the library morally belongs to the Irchester people and as the move is “absolutely disgusting”.

The library is currently used by a number of community groups.

Friends of Irchester Library member Jenny Kerman, who worked as a local librarian for many years, said: “It is such a mess. If money did not change hands then it should still be in the parish possession.

“It is sad to see that somebody can come along and say we are very sorry but we are going to have to close the library.

“Had it been our fault because we were losing a lot of money then that is one thing. But to have to close to help balance the county council’s books is wrong.”

Mrs Kerman said the closure of the library would have a big impact on the young and elderly in Irchester, who regularly use groups which run from the library. If it closes these groups will have to run elsewhere.

Irchester is one of 21 libraries NCC is proposing to close as part of cuts to reduce its annual service costs. The fight to save them has been taken to the high court and a judicial review is set to be carried out next month (June).

All of the 21 libraries under threat have received an expression of interest by local community groups to keep them running. They have until the end of this month to put together a business plan but many have said that is not enough time.

Irchester parish council says that it would cost a minimum of £20,000 per year to keep the library running, without staff costs being added.

A Northamptonshire County Council spokesman said: “We are currently in discussions with all interested parties who have formally registered an interest in establishing an independent library.

“As part of these discussions, groups will be provided with specific details about their individual library, including information about the freehold or lease arrangements for the building, which we are currently in the process of finalising.”