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Lancashire County Council Cabinet agrees proposals for community libraries, community centres, and Heysham swimming pool

John Freeman

Lancashire County Council's cabinet has agreed to transfer ownership of five buildings to local groups, which will see two independent community-run libraries being established, as well as a range of other services.

Proposals agreed on Thursday (7th December 2017) relate to Upholland Library, Crawshawbooth Library and Community Centre, Whitewell Bottom Community Centre, Brunshaw Young People's Centre, and Heysham Community Swimming Pool.

The announcement comes as a £7m package of cuts was approved by Lancashire County Council’s cabinet, with warnings more cuts will be announced over the next two months. The cost cutting includes a controversial decision to save £2.1m by halving the budget for maintenance and testing of street lights , end all night time inspections of such lights and finance any repairs from a different budget.

Plans were agreed in the summer for the phased reopening of eleven libraries to be run by the county council, with four them already having reopened. A further five are to be reopened as independent community libraries, with ownership of the buildings to be transferred to local groups.

The cabinet today agreed in principle an application for the Community Asset Transfer (CAT) of Upholland Library in West Lancashire to Artz for All, a community interest company which provides creative opportunities and services to people, schools and organisations across the district. As well as providing an independent community-run library service, the group is proposing to turn the building into an arts centre, providing opportunities for young people to take part in activities such as drama, music, dance and photography, as well as providing space for wider community activities where possible. The county council had also received a CAT application from Upholland Parish Council for the same building, focused on providing an independent community-run library and maintaining it for use by the community.

The cabinet also agreed to complete the transfer of Crawshawbooth Library and Community Centre in Rossendale to the Crawshawbooth Community Association after an earlier decision to agree their asset transfer application in principle. The group has managed the community centre on a day to day basis for the last six years, and provides a base, facilities, and support for a wide range of community activities including a pre-school and out of school club. The community association is proposing to provide an independent community-run library and expand its current activities.

Both groups will be able to access a package of help from the county council to establish community-run libraries, which includes £5,000 to provide public internet access and cover set-up costs, as well as shelving, an initial supply of books from the county's store, and advice from a dedicated community library manager. When an independent community library becomes operational, the council will also continue to provide support through an annual grant of £1,000 to provide public internet access.

County Councillor Peter Buckley, cabinet member for community and cultural services, said: "Libraries are a vital service at the heart of our communities, offering free access to books and information, as well as being a place where communities can get together.

"We have committed to reopening libraries where they've been closed, whether they're run by the county council or independently by community organisations, and we are grateful to all the voluntary and community groups who have shown such commitment to the library service and its future development.

"We have agreed in principle to transfer ownership of Upholland Library to Artz for All and we'll work closely with them towards the completion of this process so that people have access to another library complementing the statutory service operated by the county council. Upholland Parish Council made a bid for the same building and this was a difficult decision to make because the two applications were very strong, and both presented excellent options for a library and community services. We could only accept one of them but I would like to thank the parish council very much for the time and effort they have put into their application.

"Crawshawbooth Community Association is a very well established group, and I'm pleased that we will now be working with them to establish the community library, which will add to the highly valued local services which they already provide."

The cabinet also agreed to complete the transfer of Whitewell Bottom Community Centre in Rossendale to Whitewell Bottom Community Association after a community asset transfer application had previously been agreed in principle. The building was designed as a youth and community centre, and the trustees have been responsible for its day to day management since the young people's service ceased delivery from the building a number of years ago. The community association is proposing to offer a range of community activities, expanding on its current offer, as well as allow its continued used by Whitewell Bottom Pre-School.

The cabinet agreed in principle a further community asset transfer application from Charter House for the Brunshaw Young People's Centre in Burnley. The group is proposing to move its current service, Charter House Activity Centre, into the young people's centre to continue providing a range of services. These include day care for people with learning disabilities, sensory room sessions for people with complex needs, baby groups and local college workshops.

The cabinet also agreed to help secure the future of Heysham Community Swimming Pool by agreeing in principle an asset transfer application from Heysham High School Sports College. The decision had previously been considered by cabinet, but deferred to allow further discussions with the school to ensure its plans for the future operation of the pool were sustainable.

The pool, along with two others located on school sites in Lancaster had previously been leased to Lancaster City Council. However the city council made a decision to stop operating the pools from 31 March 2017 and hand them back to Lancashire County Council.

As the county council does not deliver leisure services, this could have resulted in them closing permanently. However, the county council contacted the three schools where the pools are based, along with local councillors and community organisations, to discuss transferring their ownership to allow them to continue as community facilities.

Decisions have previously been made in principle to transfer ownership of swimming pools at Carnforth and Hornby to charitable organisations which have been newly established to manage the pools, and today's decision means the county council will now work closely with Heysham High School to complete the successful transfer of the community pool.

County Councillor Buckley added: "I'm very pleased that today's decision means Heysham Community Swimming Pool will continue to be available for schools and the local community to use.

"We're grateful to the school for their application to take on the pool, and to Lancaster City Council for accepting our proposal to split the cost of the shortfall in funding needed to ensure its continued operation for the wider community."