EXCLUSIVE: Eleventh hour u-turn on Wootton library move

Parents and residents protest against the planned move of Wootton library from Caroline Chisholm School.
Parents and residents protest against the planned move of Wootton library from Caroline Chisholm School.

Parish councillors in Wootton and East Hunsbury look set to perform a dramatic eleventh hour U-turn on plans to move a temporary library facility outside the area’s community centre.

Earlier this year, a high profile campaign to keep Wootton Library in its current home at Caroline Chisholm School came to an end when county councillors agreed to move it as part of a plan to save £1 million over the next 17 years.

For the past eight years, the public library for Wootton has combined with the school library at Caroline Chisholm School as part of a PFI scheme for the school.

Together the libraries are jointly known as Wootton Fields Library.

But earlier this month Wootton and East Hunsbury Parish Council voted 7-4 against moving it to a 77 sq metre temporary building on the actual sports field itself, right in front of the community centre.

Among those supporting the county council option were County Hall cabinet member Andre Gonzalez Savage while all four Wootton members of the council opposed it.

Parish councillors said they preferred an alternative site adjacent to the car park to the south-east of the centre.

However, today after reported behind the scenes negotiations between the county council and the parish council, it emerged the parish council will now hold an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday evening where a motion signed by three councillors has been set down calling for the interim library building to go on the site they rejected earlier this month.

The motion cites the “cost and wider community implications” for the change of heart in favour of the county council’s preferred option.

If, as now seems likely, the parish council agrees to the move they originally opposed, the deal could be done to switch the library from the school to the community centre site by the October half-term, their original target date.

Speaking earlier this month, cabinet member for customer and community services Councillor Heather Smith said: “The new library will have the same facilities as other libraries such as self-service, computers and internet access. It will be within walking distance of the village and shops and is well-placed between two of the three primary schools in the area. With CCTV and lighting, we believe it will provide a good community-centred location.”

Liberal Democrats at County Hall have described the decision to move Wootton Library a “direct consequence of the Conservatives reliance on costly PFI contracts’.

The temporary unit is designed to be an interim fix while the parish council looks for a preferred site, possibly in Simpson Manor. However, the “temporary” building could be there for up to 10 years before its future is reviewed.