Campaigners lose Underhill Library fight

Dorset Echo: ‘A REAL SHAME’ Elspie Munro-Price outside Portland Underhill Library, Fortuneswell ‘A REAL SHAME’ Elspie Munro-Price outside Portland Underhill Library, Fortuneswell

ISLANDERS have told of their shock that Portland’s Underhill Library is set to close at the end of April.

Dorset County Council is axing the service in a cost-saving measure after a consultation with community representatives ‘failed to find any interest among local groups to take over responsibility for running the building.’ Portland residents will continue to have access to library services at the larger Portland Tophill Library, and plans are being put in place to provide regular mobile library visits.

With the library service needing to reduce its annual budget by £800,000, county council members last year agreed to retain 25 libraries and offer up the remaining nine to be managed and maintained by local communities.

Talks are taking place over possible transfers to eight of the communities concerned, but funding for Portland Underhill will now be withdrawn and the library will close its doors on April 28.

Councillor Elspie Munro-Price, who supported the campaign to save the library, said: “It’s a real shame.

“Obviously they’ve got to cut something but I would like to think the community would rally together and end up with a community library in Fortuneswell, run by volunteers.

“When you think of how many people stood out there in support of the library, it’s quite clear that people want to keep it.

“When elderly people and young mums have to get transport up the hill to Easton to the library, it means it’s no longer a free service.”

Portland Underhill, which currently opens for 12 hours per week, is the county council library which issues the lowest number of books and other items – a total of 6,722 in 2010/11, a 12 per cent decline on the previous year. The building is leased by the council, and will revert back to its landlord following the closure.

Dorset County Council's head of community services Paul Leivers said: “We are making good progress in our discussions to transfer eight libraries to local community control, but there was no desire to do so in the Portland Underhill area.

“However, local people will still be able to access a library service at either Portland Tophill, Wyke Regis or any other Dorset County Council library.

Protests

EARLIER this year 13,636 people signed a petition to save libraries across Dorset from closure, including Underhill. In February hundreds of protesters organised ‘read ins’ when Dorset County Council threatened to axe 20 libraries to save £800k. Underhill Library has been threatened with closure repeatedly. In May 2006, protesters filled the street outside the library to fight its closure. Vehicles honked in support of more than 60 families, children, pensioners, politicians and union reps who signed a petition. Talks continue about the possible transfer of eight other libraries to be run by local communities, including Burton Bradstock, Wool, Charmouth, Chickerell, Colehill, Corfe Castle, Puddletown and Stalbridge. “We are also working to ensure that a mobile library will serve the area.”

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