CONTROVERSIAL plans to cut and change Darlington’s library services have were approved by cabinet members on Tuesday night.

In the penultimate vote to decide on the fate of the historic Crown Street Library, councillors recommended its closure and the transfer of most resources to the Dolphin Centre.

They also voted to approve proposals to hand Cockerton Library to volunteers and to axe the town’s mobile library service as part of a £12.5m budget cuts plan.

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Darlington Borough Council’s (DBC) cabinet members cast their votes for the second time after a recent “procedural omission” meant a decision, taken in January, had to be scrapped.

Cabinet members – who play a pivotal role in the decision making process and also act as trustees for Crown Street Library – had failed to properly follow procedure by not declaring an interest, leaving DBC open to potential legal challenge.

Prior to tonight's meeting, the councillors were granted special dispensation to participate in the debate and declared an interest in front of a packed public gallery.

Ahead of the vote, a number of speakers challenged cabinet members about the veracity of the plans, which have been strongly opposed since being announced more than a year ago.

Concerns around the future stability of a library service housed at the loss-making Dolphin Centre were raised as campaigners questioned figures used to justify the plans, which estimate resulting savings at £310,000 a year.

Cllr Heather Scott, leader of the opposition, said uncertainty over the future of the Crown Street building represented a “high risk” to the authority, adding: “If the service moves out of Crown Street and the Charity Commission [which must approve any future plans] does not agree with whatever proposal is put forward – what happens then? This seems very high risk at this point in time.”

Citing anticipated savings and claiming that the council’s dire financial position had been repeatedly minimised, Cllr Nick Wallis said there was a “compelling argument” for the plans.

Asked if there would be a free vote on the issue, council leader Bill Dixon said Labour members were united in supporting the plans, which are expected to be voted on for the final time at the next full council meeting.