THOUSANDS of people have responded to a consultation which has put four libraries in The Gazette area under threat of closure.

As reported in The Gazette, Hampshire County Council launched a consultation on plans to restructure its services to save £1.7million.

Mobile library services could be scrapped altogether under the proposals, whilst the number of Tier 3 static libraries, which includes Overton, Whitchurch, South Ham and Odiham, would be reduced.

In the first three weeks of the 11-week consultation, the council has received more than 5,700 online and paper responses.

Councillor Andrew Gibson, executive member for culture, recreation and countryside, said: "We’re very pleased that the consultation on our draft Library Strategy has sparked such strong interest, and we’re encouraging more people to have their say. All feedback is valuable and will be used to inform the final outcome, as no decisions have been made yet.

"One of the proposals in the draft strategy is to place our libraries into four tiers based on how busy they are, to provide a standardised approach to services."

He pointed out that not all Tier 3 libraries will close or be transferred to local community groups, adding: "It’s important to stress that at this early stage, no decisions have been made. At the moment, we are simply asking residents how libraries should be categorised, and what the criteria should be to help inform any future reviews. We would consult about specific proposals before any changes were made.

"Nationally, the public sector faces considerable financial challenges with less money coming from central Government. Hampshire is no different – with the county council’s grant having been more than halved in recent years.

"This has affected budgets for all services, including libraries, and we are looking at estimated savings to the Library Service of £1.7 million by 2020. Despite this, we are still looking to invest £500,000 every year, for four years, to make libraries modern and vibrant, and using new digital technology such as self-service book borrowing.

"We are also looking to make libraries more sustainable to meet residents’ demands in future, reduce costs to the taxpayer and generate more income by introducing cafés where appropriate, or by sharing buildings and their costs with other partner organisations."

The public consultation runs until January 16.

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