Campaigners and Northants County Council could end up back at court over library row

Irchester Library
Irchester Library

Library campaigners and Northamptonshire County Council could end up back at the High Court this month if they fail to come to an agreement about costs.

Mrs Justice Yip ruled on Tuesday that the council had acted unlawfully in the decision it made in March to close 21 of its 36 libraries.

Legal teams for the authority and the two claimants who brought a legal claim against the council are now thrashing out details after the judge ordered that both sides ‘best endeavours to agree relief’.

If the parties can’t agree then the matter will be ruled on by Justice Yip at the Royal Courts of Justice on Wednesday, August 29.

The judicial review was fought by a Desborough infant and her family and a Mr Connolly, who is a user of St James’ library in Northampton.

Libraries are now left in limbo until further decisions are made by the county council about how it will move ahead with its library service.

All of the 21 threatened libraries have had voluntary groups for parish councils come forward and bid to take them over as independent libraries.

However before the judge’s ruling the council had ‘paused’ the review process to hand over to independent libraries after a further 114 notice that put emergency spending controls on the council.

Irchester library is one of the libraries under threat.

Clerk for Irchester Parish Council Nikki Daft said what was to happen with the 21  libraries was still unclear.

She said: “I hope that the council will now contact all of the libraries individually and enter into different negotiations as each library is facing a different situation.”

The reason the council was found to have acted unlawfully was because of the way it had quickly changed its support from having community managed libraries to independent libraries.

The judge said that after the authority received an advisory notice from its auditor KPMG in February it changed its decision without taking into account findings of the earlier consultation.

The judge also said the council’s cabinet did not weigh up the financial costs of closing the libraries that housed children’s centres as this could have led to a £1m plus clawback payment from central government.

She said: “The result was that the executive decision to close libraries appears to have been taken without balancing the statutory duty against the financial pressures.

“The cabinet cannot be criticised for being motivated by financial concerns.

“However, finances could not be the sole consideration.

“The cabinet still had to be satisfied that they were complying with their legal duties.

“On the evidence before me, I am not satisfied that they appreciated what they had to decide.”