POWERFUL speeches from residents were not enough to keep Hampshire County Council’s libraries open.

The authority made the decision to close eight of their libraries in a virtual committee meeting held from 3pm on Tuesday, July 28.

Councillor Sean Woodward, Hampshire County Council's executive member for recreation and heritage, made the final decision despite protestations from residents that the loss of Odiham and South Ham facilities would be detrimental to children, residents, and the older population in both communities.

But on the eve of his decision, Cllr Woodward was accused of using "bully boy tactics" by campaigners, hoping that Chineham library would remain open.

And replying to a Tweet from Friends of Chineham Library (FOCL), a campaign group that has worked hard to make the case for why the facility should be saved from the cut, on Saturday that said they had “saved two [libraries] but the Hampshire County Council seem not to value a physical book over digital downloads”, Cllr Woodward replied: “Not sure how you have ‘saved two libraries’. I haven’t made any decisions on behalf of [HCC] yet. That will be next Tuesday and you will be welcome to make your deputations.”

And the tweet has sparked criticism from campaigners as well as members of the public.

Before Cllr Woodward made his decision, he told The Gazette: “I have had meetings with a number of campaign groups all around Hampshire and exchanged correspondence with hundreds of people all of whose views I will take into account on Tuesday.” 

After much debate from councillors and residents, Cllr Woodward has closed the following libraries:

• Blackfield

• Elson

• Fair Oak

• Horndean

• Lee-on-the-Solent

• Lyndhurst

• Odiham

• South Ham

The move aimed at saving £1.76m, but now 50 jobs are at risk of redundancy across the county.

Now, announcing the results of the consultation, which saw the most responses in HCC history, the county council have announced that eight libraries will close, in revised proposals that will see Hampshire’s other libraries have their hours cut by an average of a fifth.

This means that residents of South Ham and Odiham will see their libraries close by the end of the year.

Speaking after it was announced that South Ham will close, executive member, Cllr Jane Frankum told The Gazette: “It has been a wakeup call that South Ham library will shut and a blow to children and older residents who love using the facility.

“South Ham is a deprived area and residents are less likely to have a means to a computer, and children will be unable to access their local library in the long summer holidays.

“But there is a lot lower usage of residents using the library which could be why it was on the hit list.”

Since The Gazette reported in January that the libraries could be at risk, the community has pulled together to campaign to keep them open.

There was a staggering 21,200 responses to the official consultation, whilst another 5,400 signed petitions and 1,400 attended meetings.

Of those, 70 per cent said that the service needs to adapt, and 21 per cent preferred the option where ten libraries would close, with 58 per cent instead opting for a reduction in operating hours alone.

But Cllr Michael Westbrook, executive member, was disappointed at the majority of committees’ recommendations for closures and concerned on the impact it would now have on his residents.

Fighting to keep South Ham open, he said: “21,000 people want the libraries to remain open with reduced hours, but the pandemic has made things even harder out of a backdrop of austerity.

“South Ham should remain open to serve its community as a public service, perhaps with an expanding offering.

“South Ham is the library at the heart of the community, readily accessible by residents on foot.

“It makes no sense to me at all to close these library facilities.”

Urging the council to consider keeping Odiham library open, a previous library assistant said: “As a child I only accessed books through my local library.

“My children caught the book bug from me, all under three years old.

“Public libraries are important, especially to children and vulnerable people in our community.

“Odiham is not close to other libraries and poorly served by public transport.”

She said there were 678 users of Odiham library where each take 20 books a year, costing £2.10 an issue.

And she argued that it is one of the cheapest libraries in Hampshire but has been chosen for closure.

Speaking about the impact closing Odiham library would have on children, a resident said: “When children were taught about possible library closures, a child thought exclusion of the library was unfair and exercised his democratic right to start a petition.

“Some children live in homes with no books and need time to get used to books.

“A digital book service could replace the library but there is the assumption all children have access to digital devices which is not true.

“It is not desirable to encourage more screen time to young children.

“Research further shows that reading paper books slows the mind down to allow better absorption of details.”