HIGHBRIDGE Library could be at risk of closure - unless the community rallies round to run it.

In a detailed report released on October 16, Somerset County Council set out how libraries would continue to be delivered across the county.

It recommended 19 existing library buildings, including Burnham-on-Sea Library, be retained by the council.

But the authority said 15 libraries, including Highbridge, may be under threat and it would seek to develop community library partnerships (CLPs), where local groups would support the buildings in partnership with County Hall.

Where this proves not to be possible, library buildings would close and alternative means of delivering library services in communities be rolled out, such as outreach services and/or mobile library stops.

Tatiana Cant, town clerk for Burnham and Highbridge Town Council, said the council was ‘disappointed’ the library is at risk and will discuss ‘all possible options’ to save it at their next meeting on November 12.

“The town council is in the process of setting its budget for 2019/20 and if it agrees to make a financial contribution to keeping the library open, the costs and benefits will need to be taken into consideration and carefully assessed,” Ms Cant said.

Cllr David Hall, cabinet member with responsibility for libraries at the county council, said keeping library services as they are was not possible amid funding cuts.

“We received excellent feedback from this year’s library services consultation,” he said. “Many people told us they would prefer no changes to our libraries, however staying the same is not an option if we are to put the libraries service on a sustainable footing for the future.

“We are making funds available to support CLPs and we are proposing to restructure libraries management in a bid to keep costs down.

“We are committed to supporting CLPs through training, technical support and the provision of book stock.

“Some would receive ongoing financial support.

“If we are unable to develop CLPs, we will meet our legal duty to provide library services in other ways.”

But Dave Chapple from Bridgwater Trades Union Council, which helped set up the Save Highbridge Library campaign, said SCC needs to play a key role in the CLPs and not give all the responsibility to the community.

“I am disappointed but not really surprised to hear that Highbridge Library is at risk given SCC’s financial challenges,” Dave said.

“We are opposed to any move where volunteers or the town council have to run the library given it is a partnership between the county council and the community.

“Keeping a library running with just volunteers is not sustainable. If the town council takes on full responsibility of the library and it folds, they will be blamed for it.”

The 15 communities which would be affected by the recommendations are invited to submit a CLP expression of interest by midday on November 15.

If unable to agree CLPs, alternative library services set out in the report would be implemented and library buildings could start to close from early 2019.

The recommendation report will go to scrutiny committee for policy and place on October 24, before cabinet makes a final decision on November 5. If approved, implementation would start from January 2019.