LIBRARY campaigners have challenged election candidates on whether they would support council-run libraries.

Save our Libraries Essex has spoken to candidates in Colchester, Harwich and North Essex and Witham constituencies.

The group fought plans by Essex County Council to close 25 libraries across the county. Of the 49 which would have remained, 19 would have been run by community groups.

However, following the protests the council promised no libraries would close for five years although it said it would look to set up community-run libraries.

Campaigners urged community groups to withdraw expressions of interest in running libraries, saying they need to be staffed by professionals, not volunteers. In Harwich and North Essex, Peter Banks (Green) said: “I am part of the Mersea Island Library enthusiasts group.

“In the run up to the last Colchester borough elections in May I created a video blog to share my concern about the consultation strategy and process.

“I am aware of the subsequent changes since I created that video, such as the promise to keep all libraries open, yet still have uncomfortable concerns over what may be implemented by stealth by Essex Country Council.” Stephen Rice (Lab) said: “My personal and political views on proposed cuts and closures to libraries in Essex and elsewhere are perfectly aligned.”

Mike Beckett (Lib Dem) said: “In Brightlingsea, I put a letter to all residents through their doors when our library was first under threat asking for their help.

“I opposed the expression of interest to run the library in Brightlingsea.

“I have attended various Save our Libraries events and have done other pro-library work along the way.”

Sir Bernard Jenkin (Con), and Independent candidates Richard Browning-Smith and Tony Francis were approached but did not respond to the group.

Maldon candidates who have responded include Colin Baldy (Lib Dem) and Stephen Capper (Lab).

Colin said: “I believe libraries are an important part of the fabric of society.

“They are and should be a public service available to all and provided by the local authority.”

Stephen said: “I am an English teacher by trade so it will not surprise you to learn I am passionate about libraries and access to reading, research and resources for all our communities.

“Libraries are an essential part of our cultural fabric and I believe we must do everything we can, not only to protect them, but to further develop their potential in our increasingly technological world.

“I would fully support the withdrawal of expressions of interest and believe we must lobby the council and central government for increased funding to sustain crucial local services.”

Janet Band (Green) said: "I support both of the proposals outlined by SOLE wholeheartedly. Libraries are one of our community's most important assets and should be protected at all costs.

"I am a Professor of International Economic Development Law as well as a life-long academic, so it will come as no surprise to hear that I am passionate about libraries and access to reading material for everyone in the community, having relied heavily on public libraries throughout my career."

John Whittingdale (Con) was approached.

Colchester candidates Will Quince (Con), Mark Goacher (Green), Tina McKay (Lab) and Martin Goss (Lib Dem) have not yet officially responded. Clacton candidates Giles Watling (Con), Chris Southall (Green), Colin Bennett (Ind), Andrew Morgan (Ind), Kevin Bonavia (Lab), Callum Robertson (Lib Dem) and Just-John Sexton of the Monster Raving Loony Party have also yet to respond to the group as have Witham candidates Priti Patel (Con), James Abbott (Green), Martin Edobor (Lab) and Sam North (Lib Dem).

A SOLE spokesman said: “We are a strictly non-party political campaign’ said a SOLE spokesperson. ‘And we appreciate that candidates so far have had little time in which to respond. However, we urge voters to only back candidates that are supportive of libraries and support us.

“Essex County Council’s plans to remove paid staff and close dedicated library buildings, and have libraries staffed and run only by volunteers, perhaps from inside a pub as was suggested by one councillor, is a closure plan by stealth. These charity shop libraries are entirely unsustainable.”