A SCOTTISH council is to backtrack on controversial plans to close almost half its libraries, following the threat of legal action.
Moray Council had planned to close seven of the 15 libraries in the area in a bid to save the cash-strapped local authority an estimated £357,000.
But, in a partial climbdown, the council’s ruling administration yesterday announced fresh proposals to cut the number of libraries facing the axe from seven to four in a bid to end the growing row over the future of the service.
They announced their U-turn after opposition SNP councillors tabled an emergency motion for tomorrow’s full meeting of Moray Council, calling on the council to drop the closure plans entirely “in light of the legal challenge being progressed against the Moray Council”.
Vivien Hendry, a single mother from the village of Hopeman, has already been chosen by the Save our Libraries Moray campaign to lead a potential legal challenge against the council’s library closure plans.
The campaigners plan to seek a judicial review, contesting the local authority’s decision to close all seven libraries at Rothes, Dufftown, Portknockie, Findochty, Cullen, Burghead, Hopeman.
In a surprise move, Councillor Allan Wright, leader of the Independent and Conservative administration, announced the administration will be proposing to remove the libraries at Burghead, Dufftown and Cullen from the list of closures at Wednesday’s meeting.
He said: “We will be challenging the motion put forward by the SNP at this Wednesday’s meeting of the full council with an alternative. Clearly, we cannot commit to a lengthy period of litigation, with all the uncertainty that will bring and costs to the public purse.
“We knew it would be unpopular, but unpopular decisions are part of the job of any elected representative. We still believe it was the correct decision, but we recognise that defending it that would distract us from the task in hand of cutting our annual spending.”
The emergency SNP motion to drop the entire closure plan has been proposed by Councillor Mike Shand, the SNP’s education spokesman.
He said last night: “To hear that the Moray Council’s Independent and Tory administration have been dragged kicking and screaming back to the position they were in two months ago is a shocking indictment of their failure to support the clearly stated priorities of their communities.
“It is abundantly clear that the campaigners’ strength of purpose and unity have brought the administration to this position.”
Moray’s MSP Richard Lochhead declared: “This is a major climbdown by the Moray Council’s administration but it still does not go nearly far enough. There is a strong case that all seven of the libraries under threat should remain open.”