CALLS for Essex County Council to throw out plans to close a third of its libraries have been rejected.

An extraordinary full council meeting was held at County Hall yesterday and protesters stood outside voicing their objections.

A motion was put forward by Lib Dem councillor Mike Mackrory and campaigning Colchester councillor Julie Young (Lab).

It was to call for Conservative ruled Cabinet to “rule out closures of libraries and commit to maintaining all 74 libraries by encouraging their better use as community hubs”.

However, an amended motion was submitted by the Tories, proposed by council leader David Finch and seconded by deputy leader Kevin Bentley.

It said the council notes there is an obligation to ensure the library service meets the current and future needs of the residents.

And it acknowledged the unprecedented high levels of public and political engagement with 57,000 petition signatures calling for libraries to be saved.

The motion called for the council “to continue to explore the opportunity to use all libraries as community hubs and to maximise the use of the buildings to generate income for the library service”.

Mr Finch said: “The opposition’s motion is premature and doesn’t recognise the changing lifestyle or needs of users.

“Let me be very clear, no decision has yet been taken but when we do decide it will be based on the evidence we have gained from residents.”

He continued: “Book loans are down 52 per cent in the last 10 years and 43 per cent down in the last 6 year. Demand for library computers is down 34 per cent in the last 10 years and 22 per cent in the last 6 years. Fewer than 1 in 5 Essex Residents is an active Library user.

"People aren’t using Libraries as they used to."

No decision has yet been made on the future of Essex libraries and Susan Barker, councillor responsible for libraries, said it was a debate rather than a decision.

The decision on whether or not to close libraries will be taken by Cabinet in the summer.

Mrs Young said it was a disappointing outcome. She said: “The Conservatives seem to think this was politically motivated which shows little respect for the people who responded to the petition with genuine concerns.

“The amount of people who came to speak was unprecedented, but their points were swept aside and we were told new technology is such we don’t need libraries.”

UNISON area organiser John Lawrence added: “It is deeply disappointing councillors have rejected this opportunity to abandon their harmful and unpopular attack on our county’s libraries.

“This wanton act of cultural vandalism has unleashed and almost unprecedented wave of public anger.

“Council leaders must listen to the people they’re supposed to represent – we want fully funded, fully staffed public libraries in Essex, not more cuts to our vital public services.”