DARLINGTON people must be listened to, is the message from Tory councillors who have forced the deferring of a crucial vote on the future of Darlington’s library services.

Contentious plans to cut and change library services across the town were expected to be approved at a council meeting this Thursday.

The proposals would see the town’s mobile library service axed, Cockerton Library given over to volunteers and the historic Crown Street library closed, with the majority of its resources to be transferred to the Dolphin Centre.

In an unexpected move, opposition councillors have provided the much-loved library with a last minute stay of execution by demanding further scrutiny of Darlington Borough Council’s long-opposed proposals.

Responding to concerns repeatedly raised by campaigners, Conservative councillors have ‘called in’ the agenda item concerning library services ahead of Thursday’s final vote on the issue.

They made their decision after concluding that certain aspects of the council’s plans warranted thorough investigation.

The councillors are demanding further examination of the calculations involved in keeping the town’s main library at Crown Street and a risk analysis of the proposed amalgamation of the library and the Dolphin Centre.

They are also asking the council to detail plans that would ensure the building at Crown Street is kept “in good order for public use” in the event of any relocation.

Darlington’s mayoress, Cllr Doris Jones, said the move had been vital in ensuring councillors had enough information to make a considered decision prior to casting their vote.

She said: “In my personal view, there are too many unanswered questions from the public.

“Questions are still coming in and the people asking deserve answers.

“Maybe at the end of this, we will still have to close the library but why not spend more time making absolutely sure that this is the way forward?

“If that is the case, then we would have to close it but if it can be saved, it has to be saved.

“It is a key part of our heritage, along with the railways and everything else Darlington is known for.

“I want to be absolutely sure before I vote that we’re making the right decision and I do not feel that would have been the case on Thursday.”

Cllr Jones added: “The people of Darlington deserve a last chance to ask their questions because it is their building.

“The people who pay their council tax own this town and are right to question decisions like this – we have got to listen to them.”

Cllr Charles Johnson said he believed the main driver behind the council’s plans was the financial position of the Dolphin Centre, adding: “We need now to bottom out the answers to these questions and move forward from there.”

The decision on the town’s library services has been removed from Thursday’s agenda while a special meeting of the council’s Efficiency and Resources Committee has been arranged to consider the call-in on Tuesday, January 31.

A spokesman for Darlington Borough Council said: “The detail and timings of further decision making on the library service will be subject to the outcome of the scrutiny process.”

The latest developments were welcomed by The Friends of Darlington Libraries, with a spokesman urging the council to work with campaigners.

Paul Howell said: “We are encouraged that at least some councillors seem to be listening and want to get to the bottom of this and understand the questions that remain.

“Their challenge gives us the opportunity for a good look at these things – we want to talk to the council and find an alternative option.”

John Dean, chair of Darlington for Culture and part of the team who will run Cockerton Library if plans are approved, said: “The council urgently needs to clarify the situation, which is very confused at the moment.

“There are clearly questions outstanding over Crown Street and questions to be answered over the move to the Dolphin Centre.

“People who have battled to save Crown Street need to know what is happening and those putting plans together for Cockerton need to know how extensive any delay could be.

“This is a remarkable development – the public needs to know what happens now.”