CRITICS have warned that proposals to close two libraries will "seriously harm" communities in the borough.

Last week the council unveiled plans to shut the South Chingford and Leytonstone Harrow Green branches and reduce the opening hours of four others in a bid to save £1million over the next two years.

The proposals also include plans to rename North Chingford, Walthamstow, Leyton and Leytonstone libraries as 'Library Plus' branches, which will be open seven days a week with longer opening hours and improved computer facilities.

If the authority's cabinet agrees at a meeting next Tuesday (June 14) a 12 week public consultation will be launched before final proposals are drawn up in October.

It argues that a shake-up will improve services and attract people to libraries who would not normally use them.

But those such as Chingford ward councillor and Tory opposition leader Cllr Matt Davis have said the proposals are "nonsense".

Cllr Davis also accused the council of being motivated by how much it could earn by selling buildings in its choice of which branches to close.

"It’s strongly the view of the Conservative group that this is deliberately designed to disadvantage Chingford and the report is not worth the paper it’s written on", he said.

"South Chingford Library is not under performing - the evidence doesn’t justify the conclusions they’ve come to.

"The choice of libraries to close seems to be more about the capital receipts they can make from selling them than the library provision."

He added: “The idea that people in South Chingford can use Walthamstow Central library instead is a nonsense.

"Many library users are older members of the community who may have difficulties just hoping on a bus to go elsewhere.

"The council should be saving money by doing things such as cutting the subsidies it pays to unions rather than closing libraries."

Library campaigner Janet Wright, who fought against the council’s previous closure of its St James Street branch in Walthamstow, said: “Any closures will do enormous harm to the surrounding community.

"It’s universally recognised right across the board how important libraries are for everybody.

“I have very little faith that the ones which have their hours cut will stay open for much longer.

“When you cut opening hours fewer people will use the library and the spiral of usage will go down further until the council can say that a branch is underused and ripe for closure. That is a real concern."

Cabinet member for Leisure, Arts and Culture, Cllr Geraldine Reardon, defended the proposals.

She said: “First and foremost we must stress that no decision has yet been made and that these are still proposals.

"If cabinet agrees to begin a public consultation on the proposals we will, of course, encourage as many residents and employees as possible to take part.

“Given the fact that we have to save £65million while facing increased demand on vital services such as social care, we have always said that no council service will go untouched as we try to make savings.

"Every local authority is finding itself in this position, and we are grateful to our residents for their continued understanding as we make difficult changes to the services they rely on."

She added: “To make sure that the proposals take the needs of our communities into account we have carried out a great deal of work and careful analysis.

"We have examined visitor numbers, borrowing trends, population density, our libraries’ performance alongside that of comparable boroughs, proximity to other services and the views and opinions of individual library users.

“We know that our residents are proud of our libraries and that the proposals we have tabled will be difficult for some to come to terms with.

"However, the reality is that savings have to be made across the board and every council service is currently having to find ways of offering residents better services for less money."

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