COUNCIL chiefs have 'pulled a rabbit out of the hat' by committing to keep all of Warrington's libraries open 'subject to robust business cases'.

The executive board approved recommendations to keep all the existing sites open at its Town Hall meeting on Monday.

However, the recommendations set out in Cllr Tony Higgins' libraries modernisation report were replaced by new recommendations from deputy council leader Cllr Russ Bowden.

Members approved the 'simplified' proposals to commit to maintain the existing libraries provision and keep all sites open, subject to robust business cases that ‘deliver the outcomes’ of the new libraries partnership group.

They also agreed to back the vision for libraries and provide up to £1 million in the council's capital programme to support a planned programme of repairs, maintenance and investment, as well as to provide a one-off £150,000 investment into the book fund in 2018, bringing the total book fund budget to £300,000 for 2018-19.

A new libraries partnership group will oversee the development of a new partnership strategy for libraries and establish a set of 'performance measures'.

Cllr Bowden (LAB – Birchwood) said the authority 'ultimately' has to ensure that the business cases are 'robust'.

He said: "I think Warrington, probably through this process, has bucked the national trend.

"More than 100 libraries closed last year across the country – what we are seeing here is the potential that libraries can be protected and we can really invigorate those library spaces."

There was widespread anger after a consultation into plans to shut nine of the town's 11 libraries was launched but council leader Cllr Terry O'Neill slammed the Government.

He said: "We have had to go through this whole exercise because of the Government's austerity measures.

"Nobody on this table wants to shut libraries.

"It is because of the measures on our capital side and our investment side that we have been able to leave the money in to protect our libraries and that is something we are really proud of.

"This is not LiveWire's fault, this not this council's fault, this is the Government's fault for cutting, cutting and cutting."

Cllr Tony Higgins, executive board member for leisure and community, praised residents, library campaigners, parish councils and council chief executive Steven Broomhead, who has been chairing the libraries working group, during the meeting.

He added: "Today is the decision.

"No decision was made about libraries ever, so there was never a U-turn."

Cllr Hans Mundry, executive board member for highways, transportation and public realm, also criticised Tory ministers in power.

He said: "I am really pleased that we managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat to make sure this works for the people of Warrington.

"The Government needs to recognise that we can't constantly find rabbits to pull out of the hat like we have done today."

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