THOSE battling to save Darlington’s historic Crown Street Library have repeatedly raised questions about contentious plans to close its doors forever.

This week, Joanna Morris put some of their questions to Cllr Nick Wallis.

IN efforts to axe £12m from their budget by 2020, Darlington Borough Council’s budget cuts programme would close Cockerton Library and the mobile library and transfer resources from Crown Street to the Dolphin Centre – a move they say could save £330,000 a year.

Q: What will you do with the 6,420 responses to The Northern Echo’s campaign to Save Crown Street?

A: “We will consider these responses as we will consider all responses received and hopefully come to the best decision for the town in what are tremendously difficult circumstances.”

Q: Can you reassure our readers that alternative plans put forward by Darlington for Culture will be taken seriously?

A: “We’ve had a number of meetings with DfC, not only about Crown Street, but about Cockerton Library as well, which is a hugely important branch library.

“We will look very closely at the business case put forward and are keeping a very open mind on that – we appreciate the strength of feeling around the building [at Crown Street] and what it represents.

“We will look transparently at the plans to see whether it is possible to save that £330,000 a year by remaining at Crown Street.”

Q: Will there be an extension of time to allow DfC and DBC to explore these alternative plans properly?

A: “I’m awaiting officer advice at the moment but the chief executive did say there may be a possibility to extend the time.”

Q: You made comments on Facebook saying: “To be candid, if the Government magically gave the council an extra £330,000 a year tomorrow, I would argue for the cash to be spent on mitigating the worst of the cuts to the voluntary sector and to adults and children’s services – not keeping the library where it is.”

Could you elaborate?

A: “That was a personal view and it’s important for the council to engage honestly with people.

“My job as a councillor is not only to think about the library but about issues that come up in other areas.

“As a local authority we have to try and mitigate the worst of the cuts, including those to vulnerable children and those in need.

“There are many children experiencing difficulties at home or in care, adults in residential care and many struggling with problems.

“These budget proposals will not be good news for them and we have to weigh up the impact of the change to our libraries - which will not end a service but relocate it – against the challenge to adult and children’s services that will be significant and have a negative impact on peoples’ lives.

“I stand by my comments.”

Q: There is a historical covenant that states Crown Street must remain a public library forever – what consideration are you giving to this?

A: “There is an issue with the covenant but I must stress that the council has not made any decision yet.

“Preliminary work is being done to look at how it may affect a possible relocation.”

Q: Does the council have buyers lined up for Crown Street already?

A: “Nobody has expressed an interest – the only people we’ve talked to about the building have been DfC.

“This has never been about selling that building or raising capital to spend on something else.

“It’s about sustaining a library service.”

Q: Have you made concrete plans for the future of the library’s archive and art gallery?

A: “We’re trying to square those circles and it’s still being worked through.

“It’s difficult – had the council started with a fully costed, worked out plan for the library and Dolphin Centre, people would have said it’s a fix.”

Q: How will you prevent damage to books from chemicals circulating in the Dolphin Centre air?

A: Some people are worried about chlorine damaging books but anyone who knows the Dolphin Centre and where the library will be will see there are no risks from the atmosphere or anything else.

Q: Can you save this £330,000 a year by implementing cuts elsewhere? Mayoral costs of more than £60,000 a year and the bowling club contract of £25,000 a year have been raised in relation to this.

A: “To raise £330,000 a year, we’d have to stack up quite a few of those options to reach that sum.

“But this is what the public consultation has been about – to ask residents of the town for their views.

“People have taken the trouble to engage and we will do what we can to find ways of mitigating very difficult cuts.”