A CONSULTATION into shutting and reducing opening hours at libraries across South Gloucestershire has closed, culminating in a protest and a flurry of petitions. 

More than 3,000 responses were filled in during the three-month consultation, which has earmarked Chipping Sodbury Library for closure in all three options and proposes closing Hanham Library and axing the district’s home library service as South Gloucestershire Council looks to save £650,000 from its annual budget.

Juan Neuvo, an Old Sodbury parish councillor and member of the Friends of Chipping Sodbury Library set up to try and keep it open, handed in a petition to try and save cheap-to-run Chipping Sodbury Library signed by 289 people.

He said it was ‘disappointing’ there had been widespread confusion over the three-month consultation as many people had not signed the petition in favour of filling out individual forms.

“It would have been better to have had more signatures,” he said. “I was disappointed that people thought it would not count.

“I am an artist and all I have learnt about art comes from libraries. If it weren’t for libraries I would not have been an artist. We didn’t have books at home, especially not specific ones about art.”

Chipping Sodbury Library costs the council £45,000 a year to run but, despite its low overheads, the authority says most members also use the much larger Yate Library less than a mile away. The new friends group is considering a number of options including keeping the library open run by volunteers.

Unison said the planned cuts constitute a 42 per cent reduction in services and would be a ‘savage attack’ on an ‘essential focal point in communities’.

“They are safe environments which give free access to information and digital resources,” said a union spokesman.

“As such, a reduction in their opening hours would have a severe impact on children, the elderly and the most vulnerable members of the community.

“Furthermore, we consider that the proposals are a savage attack on a professionally operated library service and would lead to a rapid decline in quality and consistency of service should the service became largely dependent on volunteers, as experienced elsewhere in the country.”

The council said it would now analyse the feedback and will be presented to councillors in September.

Cllr Heather Goddard, chairman of the communities committee, said: “I would like to thank everyone who took the time to respond. While we do need to save money, our principle objective as we look at our libraries is to deliver the best possible service that is sustainable for the future.

“The consultation process illustrated the depth of feeling and the range of individuals who use our libraries, as well as revealing a number of new ideas and innovative models of providing services in the future.

“Council officers will now take time over the coming months to talk to the various groups, including the town and parish councils and community organisations who expressed an interest in working together to explore new options for each of our libraries.”