CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save Dorset’s threatened Libraries have been putting their case before councillors.

Dorset County Council is currently consulting on proposals to withdraw funding to 20 of its 34 libraries as it seeks to save nearly £55million over the next three years.

Objectors to the council proposals addressed a meeting of the authority’s community overview committee as it considered a report on the plans.

Graham Lee, chairman of the newly-formed Association of Friends of Dorset Libraries or Ad Lib, said his group was ‘determined that Dorset should have a good and effective library service’.

He also criticised the council for spending £6million over 25 years on a new library for Dorchester on the Charles Street development site while it was cutting funding elsewhere. Mr Lee said: “How can the county council justify such a decision when central government is demanding that spending is reduced?”

Jan Robertson, who was fighting the closure of Charmouth Library, told the meeting: “Cutting our smaller libraries is hitting the vulnerable.”

Wendy Davies from the Lyme Forward local area partnership asked members to think about the wider role libraries played as a community hub.

She said: “It should be recognised that in rural areas, including Lyme Regis, the Library Service is almost the sole amenity available.”

There was support from a number of councillors for the concerns raised by the library campaigners.

Coun David Milstead also hit out at the decision by the council to shell out on the new Dorchester library on the one hand while threatening to withdraw funding on the other.

He said: “In my personal opinion until cabinet agrees to mothball the white elephant in Charles Street I don’t say that it has the moral authority to close anything.”

However, cabinet member for community services Hilary Cox defended the proposals.

She said: “We in Dorset have been having a champagne library service for many years.

“We are one of the highest spenders per head of population and we have the greatest number of libraries available per head of population when for some years we have been one of the lowest-funded authorities.”

Coun Cox added: “The budgetary constraints will just not allow us to continue such a high level of funding for our population.”

The committee voted to recommend the future strategy of the Dorset Library Service to the council’s cabinet and also that they take into account the work of the policy development panel which was looking into the library proposals.

Campaigners have vowed to continue their fight to save Dorset’s threatened libraries.

Mike Chaney, chairman of Friends of Puddletown Library and Ad Lib spokesman, said ‘we are going to fight on’.

He added: “We understand they have to balance the books but there has been no consultation with the communities that use the libraries.

“They started with the assumption that their plan is right and all that we can do is comment on it afterwards.

“The whole thing is flawed and that money we know could be saved in other ways.

“The question about whether or not the central library in Dorchester should be challenged was just brushed aside and not give any serious consideration.”

At the meeting it was confirmed that after a period of consultation the decision will come before the community overview committee in June, which will then make a recommendation to the full council meeting in July.

In the meantime, the council’s policy development panel will be discussing how the threatened libraries can be funded in other ways in the future.