THE fight to save the four libraries in Moray still earmarked for closure is over.
Today the single mum, chosen by campaigners to lead the legal challenge against the council’s controversial library closure plans, announced that she had abandoned plans to take legal action against Moray Council in seeking a judicial review at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
Vivien Hendry, a single parent from the coastal village of Hopeman, was appointed at the beginning of November to lead the court fight on behalf of the protest group, Save our Libraries Moray, against the local authority’s proposals to axe seven of the council’s libraries.
But last week, in a surprise climbdown, the Independent and Tory administration pushed through revised plans to reprieve three libraries - Cullen, Burghead and Dufftown - from the threat of closure but to press ahead with plans to axe the libraries at Hopeman, Findochty, Portknockie and Rothes.
Ms Hendry said today that, following fresh consultations with her legal advisers, she had decided to drop plans to mount a legal challenge against the council “to avoid unnecessary costs to the public.”
She said: “After the U-turn last week by Moray Council meaning three libraries scheduled for closure be kept open, I have returned to legal advisers and sought opinion on pressing on with their legal case on behalf of four libraries still being closed on 30 November - Portknockie, Rothes, Hopeman and Findochty.
“I have been gathering further evidence for consideration by the advocate who has been advising me in relation to the possibility of raising Judicial Review proceedings against Moray Council in the Court of Session.
“However, having received that legal advice I have, with great regret, decided that legal action can not presently be taken forward.”
She continued: “My solicitor and advocate advise that, although there are grounds for judicial review, the issues and costs related to closing the other libraries are unclear and a court case would be protracted.
“Therefore to avoid unnecessary costs to the public I am no longer going to pursue the legal avenue at this time.”
Ms Hendry stressed: “I still have serious concerns over the adequacy of the council’s consultation process in relation to the Equalities Impact Assessment and I am gutted that my own local
library in Hopeman is to be closed in circumstances where over £27,000 European funding will have to be repaid to the European Regional Development Fund. The new library project cost £157,000 but the service in Hopeman only costs in the region of £8,000 a year to run. Even the revised decision of the council seems to me to be irrational and short-sighted.”
She added: “I would appeal to the Moray Council to consider, even now, what steps can be taken to minimise the effect of their decision on the affected communities as far as possible. I think, for example, the people of Hopeman and Rothes would be open to the possibility of the running of the library being taken on by the community for the benefit of the community.
“I will be actively investigating this possibility and, indeed, it was something that was raised as an option several months ago but not able to be followed through.”
Ms Hendry said: “I will be attending a demonstration outside Hopeman library on Saturday morning before the library closes for good at noon. I hope many others may join me to send Moray Council a strong message from many of those who voted the current administration in.”
Councillor Allan Wright, the leader of Moray Council, welcomed the decision. He said:- “I think this is a sensible decision by the group following the legal advice they have received. It has been a difficult time for all those concerned. We can now move forward, making substantial budget savings while retaining and maintaining an acceptable library service across Moray.”