A LEGAL challenge issued by a library-saving lawyer could provide fresh hope for the future of Darlington’s Crown Street Library.

Campaigners battling to save the closure-threatened historic library have used legal aid to appoint one of the country’s leading judicial review lawyers to challenge Darlington Borough Council.

Earlier this year, the authority voted to close the Grade II listed library as part of a sweeping £12.5m programme of budget cuts.

The decision came despite a high profile Northern Echo campaign backed by thousands of individuals, community groups and best-selling authors including Philippa Gregory and Anne Fine.

Following a deciding vote in June, the library is expected to close its doors later this year, when the majority of its resources will be transferred to the Dolphin Centre.

However, Michael Imperato, of Watkins and Gunn solicitors, delivered a formal letter of challenge to Darlington Borough Council on Friday (August 12), claiming the authority’s decision was taken without due process or proper consultation.

In 2014, Mr Imperato worked with campaigners battling to save a library from closure in Rhydyfelin, where Rhondda Cynon Taf Council eventually made a u-turn on its decision, asking campaigners to withdraw their judicial review case.

He also brought legal action against Shropshire Council in relation to plans to close the Church Stretton Library. At the beginning of a three day judicial review, the authority withdrew from proceedings and agreed to reconsider the decision.

He is now backing campaigners in Darlington after an anonymous woman from the town was awarded legal aid in her bid to challenge the local authority decision.

Mr Imperato said: "Our legal case is simple - councils have to go through a full, proper consultation process when they make decisions of this importance.

"This is a radical reconfiguration of the town's library service and it clearly flies in the face of strong feelings locally. I have seen how fierce the support has been for keeping the library open, and how angry campaigners are at feeling ignored."

He told The Northern Echo that there were a number of grounds on which he believed Darlington Borough Council’s decision to close Crown Street could be challenged.

He highlighted the authority’s consultation, claiming it was ill-defined to the point that it may be unlawful.

Mr Imperato also believes the controversial changes could result in the authority being unable to meet its legal requirements in relation to library provision.

He suspects equality impact assessments were not fully undertaken, claiming he could find no evidence of the Traveller community being consulted on the issue.

Former Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner candidate Peter Cuthbertson made contact with Mr Imperato after hearing about his success in fighting similar cases. He said the appointment came following “a real team effort” by impassioned campaigners.

Mr Cuthbertson added: “After years of being irresponsible with taxpayers’ money, the council is rushing through damaging and irreversible decisions in a last ditch attempt to make their books balance.

“Crown Street Library has been a much-loved part of the town for 130 years, it’s no substitute to pack everything off to the Dolphin Centre.

“This has been a real team effort for the last five months.

“As well as Michael’s expertise, we couldn’t have done this without the time and of key local groups.”

The legal action, which could result in a judicial review, is backed by organisations including Darlington for Culture and the Friends of Crown Street Library.

A Darlington Borough Council spokesman said: “We have received a ‘letter before action’ in respect of a potential Judicial Review. We are in the process of responding to the letter and we remain confident that the decision to relocate the library was taken appropriately.

“As this matter is now the subject of possible legal proceedings, we do not wish to comment further at this stage.”