Plans to reform Lincolnshire’s library service are in limbo after a High Court ruling to halt the transfer of them into the hands of community groups.
Talks between leaders of Lincolnshire County Council and non-profit organisation Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL), which tabled an offer to run almost 30 of the county’s libraries, opened on Monday after campaigners mounted a successful legal challenge to the council’s library reforms.
A ruling by Mr Justice (Andrew) Collins at the High Court in London on Thursday effectively said the council’s plans to slash the number of libraries it runs from 44 to 15 in order to save about £2 million a year were unlawful.
The judicial review was sought by campaign group Save Lincolnshire Libraries which claimed that the council had already decided on the reforms when it asked for public opinion about its plans.
Maurice Nauta of Save Lincolnshire Libraries and a senior manager of Lincolnshire’s library service for 14 years, said: “This is historic because it’s the first time a decision like this has been quashed as far as I’m aware.”
The county council approved the reforms in December 2013 after rejecting an offer from GLL to run libraries, including Crowland, Donington and Market Deeping, and achieve savings of £1.8 million a year.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Collins said: “The manner in which GLL’s proposals were dealt with, coupled with the view that they did not fall within the consultation exercise, persuades me that the (council’s) decision must be quashed.
“It may be that the most sensible way ahead is to obtain the necessary further details from GLL and perhaps further consult for a shorter period on whether any overall alternative proposal is forthcoming.”
Jane King of IDEA (Improving the Donington Envrionment for All), which bid to run Donington Library, said: “It’s a real victory for all the people who put a lot of work and effort into protesting about the changes.
“The IDEA group and Donington Parish Council put in an expression of interest to run the library but we were waiting for the judicial review to come through.
“We didn’t want to volunteer to run Donington Library because we didn’t want to put librarians out of work so possibly the reforms won’t be going ahead.”
Holbeach county councillor Nick Worth and executive member for libraries, said: “We’re still digesting the judicial review but, from our point of view, there were a lot of positives.
“The ruling said we were entitled to make whatever savings we had to but that we had a duty to deal with the GLL’s proposal.
“So we’ll now have meetings with GLL to see whether they want to go ahead in giving us more details about their proposal.
“If they do, then we’ll take that out to public consultation alongside our own current proposal and if we do go ahead with GLL, we’ll look at it in more detail.”
A GLL spokesman said: “We would be pleased to meet with Lincolnshire County Council to provide further information regarding our Libraries’ Expression of Interest which had previously been rejected.”