AMBITIOUS plans to boost income at Warrington’s libraries and increase footfall will begin with improvements to the Stockton Heath site costing around £170,000.

In December, the council’s executive board committed to keeping all of the town’s libraries open subject to ‘robust’ business cases.

In total, £1 million is planned to go towards repairs, maintenance and investment at existing buildings, on top of £150,000 that has been designated to enhance the book fund budget.

There was widespread anger after a consultation into plans to shut nine of the town’s 11 sites was launched.

But the proposals were dropped after residents rallied against them.

A detailed programme and timetable are being developed for improvements to Stockton Heath Library, with work expected to start in March.

A council spokesman said: “The working group at Stockton Heath have developed a proposal, which demonstrates both improvements to the current library provision through a wider community offer and the opportunity to generate sustainable income.

“The reconfiguration works to Stockton Heath have been scaled back to reduce costs.

“So, while new spaces will be created, this will be done in large part by using the existing layout of the building rather than significant remodelling.”

The authority also confirmed a business case for a new hub in Birchwood – which is being considered ‘outside of the scope’ of the £1 million – is being developed by LiveWire.

Furthermore, a range of opportunities are being considered by the Culcheth working group.

The spokesman said: “Each library has been assessed with a variety of condition surveys to determine the level of repairs and maintenance requirements.

“Each library also has its own individual possibilities dependent on size, layout and population needs.

“It has never been the case that each library will receive an equal portion of funding, as not every library has equal need or opportunity to generate savings or income.

“Funding will therefore be allocated according the need and opportunity, not only considering the next few years but also with a view to maximising sustainability over a longer-term period.”

Penketh has been labelled as a ‘good example’ for why the council should not rush into making a decision over library funding.

The mooted Penketh masterplan could see a significant cash injection to regenerate the area around Honiton Way, including the library, pool and community centre and Honiton Square.

The spokesman added: “The library building is in a poor condition and needs a significant amount spending on it to bring it up to standard.

“However, this is also the case for a number of other community buildings in the immediate area, including the pool and community centre.

“It therefore makes sense to review the library alongside other provision in the area and to ascertain the likelihood and scale of the masterplan in more detail before committing to significant spend from the £1 million.

“There has also been a very recent partnership opportunity presented to Penketh by a local business, which needs assessing.”

Cllr Tony Higgins, executive board member for leisure and community, has high hopes for the future of the borough’s libraries.

Warrington Guardian:

He said: “We are all passionate about library services in Warrington.

“I made a commitment to keep all of our libraries open and I stand by that.

“We won’t be closing any libraries, or reducing hours at sites.

“Library footfall has dropped and is continuing to drop.

“That is national trend and I don’t think that will stop.

“But we are not looking at libraries in the traditional sense of just books and shelves – we are looking at libraries in the commercial sense, which will increase footfall.

“Residents will be able to come to library sites and access other services, such as cafes.

“Libraries will run on models based on commercial viability and community activities.”