THE Government is investigating complaints about the pending closure of Darlington’s historic Crown Street Library.

Representatives from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) visited the town to gather evidence as they examine a formal complaint over proposed changes to library services.

The grade II listed Crown Street building has been earmarked for closure under fiercely opposed plans approved by Darlington Borough Council as part of a £12.5m programme of budget cuts.

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The proposals would also see the majority of its resources moved into the Dolphin Centre and Cockerton Library handed to volunteers to run. The borough's mobile library service has already been axed.

Plans to cut and change library services are currently on hold awaiting the outcome of a legal challenge brought by campaigners, some of whom also lodged letters of complaint with the DCMS.

Under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, the Secretary of State for DCMS – MP Karen Bradley – may intervene and order a local inquiry if she believes a local authority is failing to carry out its duty to deliver a comprehensive and efficient library service.

Campaigners have long argued that the council's plans for facilities in Darlington represent a blow to library provision, already comparatively low compared with other UK local authorities.

However, Cllr Nick Wallis – Darlington Borough Council's lead on the library plans – has always insisted the plans represent an opportunity to create a modernised, more accessible library service.

During their visit, the DCMS officials met with The Friends of Darlington Libraries and held discussions with council officers.

A spokeswoman for the department confirmed they were investigating a formal complaint and said the visit had been for evidence gathering, adding: “Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service.”

The Friends group welcomed the visit and issued a statement saying they were pleased their concerns were being taken seriously.

It said: “Following many letters of complaint to The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) over the past year…we were very pleased to receive their confirmation recently that they were treating them as a formal complaint.

“They visited Darlington this week to collect evidence to help them decide whether or not to recommend to the Minister that a formal inquiry is held.

“This was a fact finding mission and they advised us of the process to be followed and the areas of concern they evaluate.

“We were in a position to detail to them in person a first draft of our many concerns over the relocation of the library service.

“They advised us a decision on this matter would not be a speedy one and this is just the start of their evaluations.

“We will therefore be working to ensure they now have all the information they require as they progress.

“We are more than pleased with this outcome and that DCMS are taking our complaints seriously.”

A spokesman for Darlington Borough Council confirmed that officers had met with representatives from DCMS.