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Moray Council to press ahead with controversial library closures

Councillors vote to go ahead with closing local libraries despite public opposition.

Moray Council HQ
© STV

Moray councillors voted to press ahead with controversial plans to close seven of the area's 15 public libraries.

They opted to stick to their original budget proposal earlier this year to close the libraries at Burghead, Cullen, Dufftown, Findochty, Hopeman, Portknockie and Rothes.

They also voted to withdraw one of two mobile library vans as part of a £357,000 saving in the libraries service.

The original proposal was subject to an equalities impact assessment (EIA) to gauge the impact of any library closures on groups such as the elderly, disabled and families with young children.

There was outrage from both opposition councillors and community campaigners as the council voted for the closures against the advice of their own officials.

It was recommended that three libraries – in Burghead, Dufftown and Cullen – be retained as their removal would pose serious difficulties for the communities they served.

Opposition councillors were stunned when the leader of the Tory/Independent administration, Councillor Allan Wright, said he did not agree with the findings of the EIA and so proposed that all seven libraries be closed.

SNP opposition leader, Speyside councillor Pearl Paul, launched an immediate challenge and a long delay followed as legal advice was taken. When the meeting resumed it emerged that despite legal advice of the consequences of the EIA being ignored, the administration would be pressing ahead with their closure plans.

Subsequent amendments from the SNP that all libraries remain open and from the Labour group that the three named in the EIA remain open were both defeated by 13 votes to 10.

Following the meeting a spokeswoman for the ‘Save Burghead Library’ campaign, Joan Megson, said: “This is an astonishing decision and one that is quite clearly unacceptable.

“Moray Council called for the EIA in the full knowledge that without it their closure plans could be subjected to challenge – now, it would appear, the administration are unhappy that the EIA went against them and are hell-bent on pressing ahead with closing our Libraries.

“It is too early to say what our group will do next but I think it safe to say that we will not be giving up this fight.”

The outcome of the EIA formed part of a comprehensive 150-page report presented to a full meeting of Moray Council on Tuesday.

The motion to endorse the original proposal to close the seven libraries came from council leader Councillor Allan Wright who said he believed that the eight remaining libraries were adequate for the needs of the people of Moray and taking into account the financial pressures facing the council.

He said that the main issues highlighted in the EIA - including transport costs and the lack of current broadband connectivity in certain parts of Moray - had been or would be mitigated to an acceptable level.

Councillor Wright's motion - supported by all members of the council's Independent/Conservative administration group - defeated by 13 votes to ten an amendment from SNP group leader Councillor Pearl Paul.

He submitted that no libraries should be closed. His motion also defeated by the same margin a second amendment from Labour councillor Barry Jarvis that Findochty, Hopeman, Portknockie and Rothes close and that Burghead, Cullen and Dufftown remain open.

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