COUNCIL chiefs are set to make a U-turn by committing to keep all of the town's libraries open.

The council’s executive board is being asked to approve new plans which will see all of the borough's libraries stay open for the foreseeable future.

Members will discuss the recommendations at their Town Hall meeting next Monday.

There was widespread anger after a consultation into plans to shut nine of the town's 11 libraries was launched, with determined campaigners pressing the authority to have a major rethink.

A libraries working group has been looking at ways to protect services by identifying a ‘sustainable future’ since it was set up in March.

And under the new proposals, library operator LiveWire and the council are vowing to ‘maximise resources’ by working with external partners at a number of libraries to create ‘mini hubs’, with integrated services focusing on learning, wellbeing and the community.

Additionally, a new library will open shortly as part of the Great Sankey Neighbourhood Hub development.

A number of the proposals would see investment from the council to refurbish and reconfigure buildings to make them ‘fit for purpose’ as sustainable community hubs.

The total budget for Warrington’s libraries service in 2017-18 totals just over £1.5 million.

It includes the running costs of each site, wider library services such as book stock replenishment, bibliographical services and central overheads.

As part of the recommendations, the council is committing an investment of £150,000 in 2018 to enhance the book budget.

LiveWire will be investing an additional £50,000 on new books each year too.

A planned programme of repairs and maintenance to existing library premises of up to £1 million is also part of the investment plan.

If the recommendations are approved, the delivery of the modernisation programme would be overseen by a new libraries partnership board – made up of representatives from the council, LiveWire, the third sector and Friends of Libraries groups.

Cllr Tony Higgins, executive board member for leisure and community, said: "I've said from day one that we will listen closely to residents on this important issue.

"These recommendations are the result of months of hard work, with the views of people always at the heart of the discussions.

"I would like to thank all members of the working group who have worked so hard and so positively together.

"The financial climate is not getting any easier but I have been enthused by the ideas put forward by communities on how libraries can work in partnership with local groups, parish councils and small businesses.

"Each library has been looked at on an individual basis, with its own business case developed.

"That gives me real confidence that we can make these plans a reality.

"I'm delighted that we have come up with recommendations which aim to protect, but more importantly, sustain libraries across the borough for years to come."

Council chief executive Steven Broomhead, who chairs the libraries working group, added: "The last eight months have seen our group making tremendous progress in mapping out a sustainable future for our libraries.

"Constructive, positive dialogue has been at the heart of all of this and we believe these recommendations provide the way forward to maintain and develop our library service now and in the future."

The council commissions LiveWire to provide a range of leisure, library and health and wellbeing services – this contract is in place until 2022.

The working group was formed following a public consultation, led by LiveWire, in 2016 – it incorporated the views of more than 2,400 residents.

The key recommendations for each of the borough's 11 libraries are:

-           Birchwood – relocate the library into Birchwood Leisure and Tennis Centre and redevelop this site to become a Neighbourhood Hub.

-           Burtonwood – relocate the nearby Post Office into the library to maintain both services. The Post Office is currently consulting with the public over the relocation.

-           Culcheth – the council will explore the possibility of capital investment to enable potential partners, who have expressed an interest in renting space in the library, to develop their offer.

-           Lymm – drive forward discussions with local partners to rent currently empty and underutilised space in the library building.

-           Orford – no change to be made to existing library at Orford Jubilee Neighbourhood Hub.

-           Padgate – build on partnership with Longbarn Residents Association – who have taken a small office in the building – by seeking other partners within the community.

-           Penketh - maintain the current library offer working with the Friends of Penketh Library, while exploring how the library could benefit from the wider masterplan currently being drawn up for area.

-           Stockton Heath – explore options to reconfigure the space within the library to unlock its potential for income generation and widen its scope to deliver community activities. The council and LiveWire will work closely with the Stockton Heath Library Working Group and local parish council to deliver this.

-           Warrington Central – to undergo no change with regards to the current services delivered. LiveWire will work in partnership with Culture Warrington to develop a Heritage Hub for the town within this building.

-           Westbrook – no change at present, until there is more clarification regarding the plans of the current landlords for the Westbrook District Centre.

-           Woolston – no change to be made to the existing library at Woolston Neighbourhood Hub.