Thu, 26 Jul 2018
NEWBURY Town Council has faced a strong backlash from its opposition members after agreeing to lease Wash Common Library from West Berkshire Council.
Following the results of a public consultation, the ruling Conservatives voted to accept a proposal to take on a five-year lease of the building at a peppercorn rent.
It is almost certain that the volunteer-led library, which closed in April 2017 after the district council made a spate of cuts to statutory services, will now reopen.
Leasing the library will cost the town council £980 each year, an extra cost of 10p for taxpayers in Newbury.
Members were unanimous in commending the mammoth effort by The Friends of Wash Common Library – a community group formed following the library’s closure. It is expected that the group will run the library once it reopens.
Tony Stretton (Con, Clay Hill) said he was in admiration of the group, who were “a credit to their area and to Newbury”.
The Friends will also be expected to pay all utilities and operational costs for the services they provide from the building.
But others, while praising the group, questioned the town council’s approach in deciding which services to shoulder from the cash-strapped local authority.
These include taking over the running of the Wharf public toilets two years ago and a £31,000 contribution for the West Berkshire library service in its 2018/19 budget.
However, the town council turned down a recent request from the district council to operate the Faraday Road football facility on a temporary lease – which ended Newbury FC’s 55-year stay at the ground.
Elizabeth O’Keefe (Lib Dem, Victoria) claimed the town council had neither the “expertise nor capacity” to be continually supporting district council services.
Mrs O’Keefe said: “I admire the hard work and determination of the Friends of Wash Common Library and wish them success.
“My concern going forward is the budget and capacity of Newbury Town Council.
“Currently, the council is not in a position to continue to keep taking on projects that have previously been run by the district.”
Results from the public consultation – which received 100 responses – showed near unanimous support for the proposal for the town council to take on the lease, with only two individuals against the idea.
But the town council’s opposition leader, Martha Vickers (Lib Dem, Northcroft), echoed Mrs O’Keefe’s comments, claiming it had a duty to represent all wards of Newbury fairly.
Mrs Vickers said: “You could say that the residents of Clay Hill, where there’s a greater area of deprivation, might be more in need of a library.
“I think the comparison with Clay Hill illustrates how a more disadvantaged community may not have the resources to campaign for additional resources.
“As a town council representing all the people, we should be creating our own priorities, not just reacting to the demands of West Berkshire Council.”