DARLINGTON’S Labour candidate in the General Election said she should have listened to campaigners battling to save the town’s historic library.

Jenny Chapman said she could have done more as an MP to represent the views of her constituents as they fought against plans to cut and change library services.

The Grade II-listed Crown Street Library will soon close as a result of Darlington Borough Council’s programme of budget cuts, with the majority of its resources being relocated to the Dolphin Centre.

Loading article content

The Northern Echo: AXED: Darlington's Crown Street Library. Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

As campaigners and residents fought to protect library services, the town’s then MP Ms Chapman faced criticism for failing to speak out on their behalf. She has now explained her stance, saying she was not convinced she could make a difference to the council’s decision.

Ms Chapman, who recently announced proposals to create an arts centre at the Crown Street site following the contentious move, said: “I did not want to launch a campaign to save the library knowing full well it was going to have to move.

“On reflection, even though the outcome would have been the same, people wanted to see me stand up and shout on their behalf.

“People are saying to me that they needed to see me stand up against that particular decision – if they’re saying that, I need to listen.”

Tory candidate, Peter Cuthbertson – who has been part of the campaign to save Crown Street Library – accused Ms Chapman of being “too close to a failing Labour council”.

He highlighted the fact that Cllr Nick Wallis, who led the library plans, was employed in Ms Chapman’s office, saying: “She had seven years to discover her independence – now that there is an election, it is simply too late in the day.”

Lib Dem candidate Cllr Anne-Marie Curry and the Green Party’s Matthew Snedker reiterated their ongoing support for the campaign to save the library, as did UKIP’s Kevin Brack.

Ms Chapman recently announced plans to transform Crown Street Library into an arts centre by bringing The Forum Music Centre onto the site in a bid to safeguard the future of the building.

She said: “What matters now is that we preserve that building and make sure it still plays an important part in the town.”

Paul Howell, of the Friends of Darlington Libraries, said: “Jenny Chapman is absolutely right, she should have listened – she has ignored her constituents for far too long on that particular issue.

“It is unfortunate but the position she is taking now will be seen to be politically expedient.”