CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save a historic library from closure have issued court proceedings against the council behind the plan.

Darlington Borough Council is now facing a potentially costly court case over its decision to close the Grade II listed Crown Street Library.

The plan has already been delayed several times, and a court claim lodged by those trying to preserve the facility could lead to a further hold-up.

A judge is expected to conduct a review of the case within weeks. If it is deemed to have merit, it will then be heard in the High Court.

The council – unable to move forward with its plans until the latest challenge is resolved – could incur significant costs as a result of the legal process.

Paul Howell, of the Friends of Darlington Libraries, said: "They say they are going to continue because we don’t have a case but our lawyer and barristers believe we do and we say let’s get this in front of a judge and let him decide.

“The council are putting tax payers’ funds at risk by going through with this legal action when they should be backing off from their plans – we still don’t believe their sums add up.

“They are wasting tax payers’ money at the same time as destroying our culture.”

The council confirmed the court action but would not elaborate further other than to say it remains committed to moving the library service to provide better accessibility and improved facilities.

Crown Street Library, gifted to the town by the Pease family, was earmarked for closure as part of the council's £12.5m programme of budget cuts.

As part of changes to library services across the town, the majority of its resources will be transferred to the nearby Dolphin Centre.

Cockerton Library will be handed over to volunteers to run while the mobile library service has already ceased to operate, having been axed completely under the contentious plans.

Last month, campaigners used legal aid to enlist ‘library-saving lawyer’ Michael Imperato to fight their corner.

In 2016, an initial legal challenge spearheaded by Mr Imperato led to the council temporarily setting aside its decision to close Crown Street.

A fresh legal challenge was issued after the council voted earlier this year to press ahead with its plans, with a 20-page ‘letter before action’ submitted by Mr Imperato outlining concerns over the authority’s consultation process and the trust governing future use of the building.

The council would not share its response to the letter but campaigners said it addressed their concerns point by point, with the authority concluding that the case against them would not succeed.

Darlington MP Jenny Chapman, said: “There is a certain inevitability about this – it is not uncommon when unpopular decisions are taken involving important local services and we must let the process run its course.

“It is unfortunate that it will cost the tax payer, however, this is a proper legal process that is rightly available to citizens and it is not unusual to see it used in this way.”

Mr Imperato has acted for individuals and campaign groups in a number of judicial review cases against local authorities and has helped protestors preserve other libraries.

He was involved in a 2016 case that saw the High Court quash a decision to close the Church Stretton Library in Shropshire and was instructed by campaigners battling to save the Rhoose Library campaign.

Their challenge was instrumental in forcing Rhondda Cynon Taff Council’s decision to do a u-turn on their decision to close Rhydyfelin Library.