HEARTBROKEN campaigners insist that their fight will go on as a High Court judge ruled in the favour of Darlington’s council in the battle to save a historic library.

Plans to close the town’s Crown Street Library could now progress unhindered after a judicial review brought by the campaigners against Darlington Borough Council was dismissed.

The Grade II listed building is earmarked for closure under strongly opposed council proposals to cut and change library services in a £12.5m programme of budget cuts that was announced in 2016.

Using legal aid, the Friends of Crown Street Library took their long-running fight against the plans to the High Court, with campaigners and council representatives attending Leeds Combined Court for a two day hearing in June.

The case centred on whether or not the council had followed due process, with a particular focus on two consultation exercises and whether they had been carried out lawfully.

Mrs Justice Whipple’s decision – announced on Monday – went in the authority’s favour and prompted Cllr Nick Wallis, who is leading the library plans on behalf of the council, to say that her judgement was a vindication of “the very thorough and careful work that has been undertaken throughout the process”.

On behalf of campaigners, Nicholas Bowen QC had argued that they had been treated unfairly by the council in that they were not given enough time or support to develop an alternative business plan that would secure the future of the library at Crown Street.

However, Mrs Justice Whipple said he had conceded that such claims of unfair treatment were “doomed to failure because unfairness, even conspicuous unfairness, was not a proper ground of challenge in public law.”

In a lengthy summary of her decision, she added: “…having spent some time now on this case, I am not persuaded that anything has gone wrong here which could be seen as a public law error, however it is put.

“The consultations were fair, the steering group’s proposals were rejected for reasons which were at least reasonable; there was no duty to provide help and encouragement to the steering group or more time to deal with objections to the business case or a further opportunity to respond.

“The defendant was well aware of the strong opposition to the closure of Crown Street Library but it had a large budget deficit to fill.

“I would not criticise the way in which the defendant went about making its decision, even acknowledging that the decision was very disappointing for the claimant and other members of the steering group.”

Cllr Wallis said that the council would now be considering its next steps in regard to the future of the library service but that no immediate action was planned.

He added: “The judgement reinforces our long-held view that the consultation process that underpinned the decision to relocate the library service was open, fair and transparent – and, above all, lawful.

“We will now contact the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) to relay the judge’s findings. We will also seek to understand how they wish to resolve the outstanding complaint to DCMS over the proposed changes to the library service.”

Paul Howell, of the Friends of Darlington Libraries, said that campaigners were devastated as he released the following statement: “We understand that the judicial review has been declined on the basis of the council not being sufficiently unfair, the case was credible but not quite enough and we would comment as below.

“First we would like to thank all of our many supporters, your constant encouragement gives us the fortitude to continue. We appreciate every letter, every post and every signature, thank you.

“We also thank Michael Imperato and Nick Bowen and the rest of the legal team for their efforts to date.

“We are taking advice on our options regarding an appeal and we sincerely hope that even though we have lost the legal argument that the council will reconsider and change their minds.”

Mr Howell said that a number of avenues of resistance still remained for the campaigners, who are hoping that an on-going Government investigation by the Department of Culture, Media and Sports will assist them in their battle.

He added: “We hope the public hold the Labour Council to account in forthcoming town wide elections next year.

“There is no excuse for this wholly inappropriate cultural and economic vandalism of our Crown Street and town centre.

“Recent announcements around available funds and an acceleration of town centre pressures have changed the options and a reset is required.

“We continue to hope they step back and reconsider to ensure that rather it is the jewel in a town centre crown to be cherished and leveraged.

“We can and should create a better reality.”