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Sefton library campaigners buy extra time after more than 20,000 show support for service

PROTESTERS campaigning against the closure of seven Merseyside libraries claimed a victory yesterday as politicians agreed to consider their views.

More than 20,000 people have joined the battle to save libraries across Sefton.

The decision to continue exploring the libraries’ futures was deferred so the huge response from campaigners could be fully assessed.

Placards and banners calling for individual libraries to be saved were paraded outside Southport town hall before Sefton’s cabinet met yesterday morning.

Campaigners have strongly opposed the plans to shut services in Aintree, Ainsdale, Birkdale, Churchtown, Crosby, Orrell and Litherland. More than 17,000 people signed petitions against closures while 3,026 responded to a consultation over the libraries.

The leaders of six of the petitions gave passionate pleas to councillors at the meeting.

Birkdale library campaigner Mary McQueen labelled the plans “an indiscriminate hammer prematurely wielded” on a service vital to the 4,700 schoolchildren in the area.

Mrs McQueen – who delivered 426 Christmas cards to the council from children in Birkdale opposing closures – called on the Labour-run council to have the courage to save the sites.

After the emotional speeches leader of the council Peter Dowd said: “It’s no good any of us pretending we don’t have a budget gap of £51m over the next two years and that gap could potentially get bigger over the next two or three years.

“That is fact and we are working and operating with that but we are happy to have feasible, sustainable proposals presented to the council and still will have them. But I have to say people just suggesting ‘don’t do this, find the money from elsewhere’ is not a sustainable, feasible option unless those savings are laid out.”

Volunteers and a private firm have offered to take over threatened libraries.

Voluntary group Sefton CVS could sell fruit and vegetables from Birkdale library if their plan to keep the service open is supported.

Cabinet agreed not to ask council officers to form a “strategic plan” for the libraries, deferring any decision until it next meets on February 28 – hours before the crucial 2013/14 budget. The decision was delayed to allow more time to consider the views raised by the campaigners.

Claiming this as a “minor victory” Cllr Tony Dawson, who presented a petition to save libraries in Southport, said: “The fact the leader of the council is prepared to think about this before taking it to council is the best decision we could have got.”

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