Library campaigners plead with Northamptonshire County Council to let group pay £1 peppercorn library rent

L-R- councillor Julie Davenport with Lorraine Grannell.
L-R- councillor Julie Davenport with Lorraine Grannell.

A library campaign group wants to continue paying the a £1 peppercorn rent, now paid for by Northamptonshire County Council, to keep their statutory library service open.

The county council owns 12 of the under-threat libraries and could make £3.25m if the buildings are bought by community groups or sold off to other companies.

NCC has asked for £35,000 annual rent from an independent group to run the Far Cotton library. The authority pays just £1 a year to rent the library from Northampton Borough Council.

June 15 was the deadline for independent groups to put forward bids to run the libraries, which Northamptonshire County Council has said it can no longer afford to run.

Groups were told if they wanted to take over their library they would have to submit formal proposals by the end of May, this year, with the hope of taking them over in August.

The review process in which organisations have been asked to put forward their business case has been criticised by campaigners and councillors.

Despite the Friends of Far Cotton Library making two notes of interest to Northamptonshire County Council, before March, the group said they couldn't come up with a comprehensive business plan before the final deadline due to the extortionate running cost to rent the library facilities.

But the Friends of Far Cotton Library aren't going to give up fighting just yet.

Councillor Julie Davenport (Ind, Delapre and Briar Hill) said: "Northamptonshire County Council (NCC) currently lease a section of the Far Cotton Recreation Centre from the borough council for a peppercorn rent of £1. However NCC want the Friends of Far Cotton Library, or any other local group, to pay £35,000 a year in rent it to ensure the library does not close."

A spokesperson for Northamptonshire County Council confirmed that the local authority pays a lump sum premium at the start of the lease in exchange for a peppercorn rate.

Councillor Davenport added: "It appears that the county council wish to make profit from the tax payers who have already paid their council taxes to receive a statutory library service.

“Surely it would be better for the county council to surrender the lease and let the friends of the library, or another group, to pay that peppercorn rent so the library can stay open?

"I think It has become a library lottery. If you live in a postcode with a parish council you have more chance of the library staying open. If you live in an area where other premises are available at a cheap rent you also have a chance of the library staying open. Unfortunately for the residents of my ward we have neither a parish council nor available affordable premises to keep the library open. Therefore my residents have lost this lottery."

A parish council is funded by a annual payment or precept from the county council.

The closure of the libraries is subject to a judicial review which is expected to be heard at the high court next month (July).

The county council decided last week (June 21) that it will not permanently close any of the threatened libraries until after the high court judge has ruled.

Chair of the Friends of Far Cotton Library Lorraine Grannell stumbled upon her library when she had her little girl five years ago after the counties children's services had been relocated.

She said: "It's a really cynical attempt to make money from areas that Northamptonshire County Council know can't afford to do it.

"You can't go to anyone and ask for money. Who can you go to for funding?

"We are not going to give up on this fight. We may well have to go somewhere else in the community to do it but we will not fail. They have given us a very small window of opportunity in which to establish a business plan, the funding, and the man power to run the library. They are not offering any support this time unless we pay for it."