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Outcry over library claim

Conservative candidates' leaflet sparks anger

John Garvey

John Garvey

john.garvey@newburynews.co.uk

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01635 886628

Outcry over library claim

AN election leaflet which portrays Conservatives candidates as the saviours of Hungerford’s library has prompted anger and derision.

This week, leaflets dropped through letterboxes showing James Cole, Claire Rowles and Dennis Benneyworth standing outside the building, now known as The Hungerford Hub.

The accompanying text states: “Our achievements include... securing community facilities in Hungerford such as... the local library.”

Former town mayor Peter Harries was among the critics of the leaflet and said: “I’m apolitical but this makes me angry. It was the Conservative regime that wanted to shut the library. Local people saved it – not these three.”

He later posted on social media: “To use the great works of the dedicated people of this town [for] political gain is nothing short of disgraceful – shame on you.”

The leaflet provoked controversy online, with several posters labelling it misleading.

In February 2016, the Newbury Weekly News reported how the community was galvanised by the potential loss of the library after Conservative-controlled West Berkshire Council earmarked it for closure as part of its plan to cut costs.

An online petition to save it attracted more than 500 signatures and the Friends of Hungerford Library (FoHL) campaign group, of which Mr Harries and Helen Simpson – now town mayor – have been prominent members, was formed.

Since then, Mrs Simpson and her deputy Keith Knight have spearheaded negotiations with West Berkshire Council which led to the town council taking on the building at a peppercorn rent.

Following that achievement, the FoHL – now known as The Hungerford Hub – formed a charity to finance the day-to-day running of the operation and to maintain it as a viable facility for the town. 

The election agent for West Berkshire Conservatives, Dominick Boeck (Con, Aldermaston), stood by the leaflet.

He said: “As you know, we went to consultation on the proposal of closing several libraries across West Berkshire.

“Then we consulted with individual communities, including Hungerford, and spent enormous effort in trying to arrive at a solution which was right for the particular communities.

“In Hungerford they were exceptionally innovative and hard-working and Conservative Party members and elected members were heavily involved in that.

“We arrived at an exceptionally successful solution.”

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