Cuts to opening hours at Tonbridge libraries are reduced

PLAN SHELVED: Hildenborough library will keep its existing 23 hours a week

Cuts to opening hours at Tonbridge libraries are reduced

by Andy Tong | 27th March 2019

KENT COUNTY COUNCIL will go ahead with its plans to cut library hours – but has made changes to its initial proposals which benefit Hildenborough and, to a lesser extent, Tonbridge.

Under the original plan, the town’s main library was slated to lose 18 hours a week – or a third of its opening time.

It was designated as a second-tier library – ‘town’ rather than ‘town plus’ – but has been reclassified as Tier One.

That means it will lose 13 hours, down from 55 hours a week to 42 rather than 37.

Hildenborough, which under the new classification was to become Tier Five – the lowest level of service – was to have its hours slashed from 23 to 15. But after a concerted campaign by the village, it will retain its full allocation.

The three-year scheme across 99 Kent libraries – apart from Tunbridge Wells and Southborough, which are undergoing major development projects – is designed to save KCC £960,000 a year.

'East Peckham and Hadlow had their hours put up and they are nowhere near as busy as Hildenborough is. So why not us?'

All libraries are saved from closure – and Hadlow and East Peckham even have longer opening times, with an extra seven and five-and-a-half hours respectively.

But the shortfall caused by the revised proposals for 12 librarires means that County Hall has fallen short of its savings target by £90,000.

It intends to recoup this by making further cuts to non-staffing budgets.

Ioannis Sklavenitis, who runs Thompson’s Pharmacy next door to Hildenborough library, started a petition which was signed by more than 220 local residents.

“In my opinion it was crazy,” he said. “Lots of my customers raised concerns too, and we thought it was important to do something to change the situation.

“KCC held a consultation at Tonbridge library and the majority of the people were from Hildenborough.

“It shows the will of the people, that they were making the effort to go to that.”

He added: “The library local services are central to our community. I’ve seen the library grow considerably in the last four years. It’s used by lots of children at the primary school.

“A lot of ladies go along to Knit and Natter and the book club. Many of them don’t see anyone in the rest of the week, or have a place to meet.”

His campaign gained support from local MP Tom Tugendhat, who wrote to every person who signed the petition, and the parish council.

Mr Sklavenitis said: “They sent a very powerful letter, and one of its members analysed the way they conducted the survey and found the methodology was false.”

Now he wants to try to increase the opening times. “East Peckham and Hadlow had their hours put up and they are nowhere near as busy as Hildenborough is. So why not us?”

'While I have heard the understandable concerns raised about the reduction of library opening hours, difficult decisions have to be taken'

The ten-week consultation saw 5,547 responses by the public; 44 per cent were in favour of the original plan while 37 per cent were against it.

Customers will not see any changes to opening hours until the autumn. The next step is to find out what exact opening hour patterns customers would like to see, which will be carried out in every library over a three-week period after the local elections in May.

KCC will also be ‘exploring the opportunity to replace our fleet of [five] mobile libraries with smaller more efficient and reliable vehicles’.

A spokesperson explained: “There may be fewer books on board, but until we have decided on the vehicle, we cannot be specific. One positive outcome would be less off-road time and missed stops.”

Mike Hill, KCC’s Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services, said: “This strategy offers a sustainable future for the Libraries, Registration and Archive Service in the context of the challenging financial situation for KCC.

“Unlike many other local authorities, Kent is committed to keeping all its libraries open if possible. While I have heard the understandable concerns raised about the reduction of library opening hours, difficult decisions have to be taken.”

Pat Lanzarotti, who worked in the main library and Tonbridge North for 10 years, said: “To be quite honest, I think the library services have come off lightly when you consider that the fund has to cover age-related services, children’s services and those for other vulnerable people.

“The mobiles have always been very expensive to buy and maintain but they are needed for a lot of elderly people who cannot access the main library services. I really don’t think there are any satisfactory answers.”

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