The Chris Green column: Concerns over library plan

Bolton West Conservative Chris Green MP
Bolton West Conservative Chris Green MP

First we lost our swimming baths, then we lost Formby Hall and now, it seems, we’re about to lose our library.

Some readers may be aware that Wigan Council is currently conducting a consultation on plans which they argue will make our Town Hall a centre of the community again.

What some people don’t realise is that this will be at the cost of a fully functioning library.

I recently paid a visit to Atherton Library to meet with members of the Atherton Library Support Group who have been championing this great community resource for years.

They told me about some of the concerns they have about this consultation and what impact it would have on all those people who rely on the library every day.

Wigan Council want to bring our brilliant library into the Town Hall next door – only it won’t be a library as you and I know it.

No longer will you be able to go in and browse the shelves like we can now. It will be nothing more than an online shop, with people having to order books they want through a computer or at a desk.

This is bad news for the community of Atherton and, I fear, it is part of the council’s wider plans to remove a library resource in Atherton altogether.

A few years ago they reduced the opening hours of the library, despite it being very well-used. I’m told that these changes had a big impact on long-standing popular groups who met in the library – conveniently for Wigan Council, these new opening hours meant that the library would be closed when these groups usually met.

Fortunately no one counted on these groups’ commitment to the library and they simply changed their meeting times – a testament to how important the library is to the community.

Now the council want to essentially turn our library into someone sat behind a desk in the building next-door.

Our library isn’t just somewhere where you go to pick up a book – although that is, clearly, a very important part – it’s also a community hub.

There are events there every day and I’ve heard it described as a lifeline for many local people, particularly the elderly.

Young people use it when they’re coming home from school and you’ll often see people working at the computers and on the tables.

I know plenty of people will welcome the Town Hall becoming a centre of the community again – at least that’s the council’s grand plan – but the council have been very quiet on what the cost of us re-gaining this facility will be. It should be pointed out that Atherton Town Hall was always a full functioning building for years until Wigan Council changed that.

I’m not sure many people in Atherton will understand why we need to lose a well-used facility that so many people rely on every day and I really do think that this is a bad idea.

We’ve seen something similar happen next door in the Labour-run Lancashire County Council where the library provision in the smaller towns and villages has been decimated, despite evidence that they were well-used with local community groups offering to take them over.

This is yet another example of Wigan Council turning Atherton into little more than a suburb of Wigan. Time and time again we have seen our resources taken away and moved to the centre while all available funding seems to get ploughed into Wigan.

Please, if you value our library, take part in this consultation and make sure your views are known.

I’ll also be taking this case up with the Libraries Minister in Parliament.