A HIGH court judge said there was "just about enough" evidence for him to order further scrutiny of contentious proposals to close Darlington’s historic Crown Street Library.

Impassioned campaigners representing thousands of the town’s residents took their fight to save the library to the high court today.

At Leeds Combined Court, Mr Justice King presided over a hearing that concluded with his decision to order a further hearing before a judge into plans by Darlington Borough Council (DBC) to cut and change library services across the town.

Campaigners said they were pleased by the decision which they argue shows that the council "got things wrong", while the authority said it was "heartened" by the ruling after the judge rejected some of the protesters' arguments.

The plans would see Crown Street closed, with the majority of its resources transferred to the Dolphin Centre, while Cockerton Library will be handed to volunteers.

The town’s mobile library service has already been axed as part of the proposals, which were announced in 2016 as part of a £12.5m programme of budget cuts.

Members of the Friends of Darlington Libraries packed the public gallery and representatives from the authority were on hand as the judge delivered his verdict following several hours of legal argument.

After hearing representations from Nick Bowen QC on behalf of the campaigners, he granted permission for a new hearing - giving campaigners leave to continue to pursue a judicial review - on the grounds that criticisms of the council’s consultation procedures could be argued in court and therefore warranted further scrutiny.

The next hearing will be presided over by a high court judge and is expected to last a day-and-a-half.

A number of issues with the authority’s two consultation exercises were raised by Mr Bowen, who suggested that they had been “pre-determined” in nature and accused the council of acting unfairly towards campaigners by not giving them enough time to prepare an alternative proposal.

He said: “We say that the consultation was not effective or fair and campaigners say the council was just going through the motions.

“I will try to avoid saying a word that begins with 's', ends with 'm' and has a 'h' and 'a' in the middle.”

The council’s representative, Richard Clayton QC, insisted that aspects of the campaigners’ case were not strong enough to be pleaded in court.

Mr Justice King said that he had been tempted by his arguments but had “just about enough” evidence to order the debate proceeds to the next stage.

After listening to representations from Mr Clayton, Mr Justice King dismissed the notion that the authority had breached the Localism Act by failing to treat an outline business plan from campaigners as a bona fide expression of interest in providing or assisting with the provision of library services.

He said that campaigners had not made it clear that they wished to make a formal expression of interest in assisting in the running of or the provision of library services but suggested that the council had “arbitrarily dismissed” the detailed plans put forward by protestors hoping to keep library services at Crown Street.

Following the hearing, a spokesman for DBC said the next hearing would allow for detailed consideration of the issues raised by the claimant and a fuller response from the council, adding: “It would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.”

However, Cllr Nick Wallis, who leads the library project on behalf of the council, said it was telling that the judge had rejected some of the protestors’ arguments and “came close to dismissing the legal basis of their case altogether”.

He added: “I was heartened that the judge carefully considered all the complex legal arguments in the case.

“It is now for the court to consider the matter finally in the new year, when I hope this matter can finally be concluded.”

Paul Howell, representing the Friends of Darlington Libraries, said: “We are pleased that the opportunity still exists for the council to do what they should have done, which is to come and talk to us and see if we can find a better way forward.

“This hearing clearly shows that they got things wrong and they should stop spending money on this now.

“They need to drop what they’re doing and engage with us to find a resolution.

“We would obviously have preferred for all of our arguments to have gone through but the fight continues.”