A CONTROVERSIAL plan to withdraw funding to more than 20 libraries has been shelved after a huge public outcry prompted a U-turn by council chiefs.

Senior councillors at North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC care to re-examine a proposal to cancel financial support to more than half of the authority's 42 libraries.

Instead, libraries which had not previously been earmarked for cuts could see their budgets slashed as senior councillors look to make the plans "fairer".

Funding cuts imposed on local authorities by central Government have prompted councils across the region to consider reducing their spending on libraries.

However, the plans have led to a fierce backlash from the public.

Hundreds of people have attended meetings and rallies to fight the cuts in North Yorkshire.

Fears have also emerged that Darlington and County Durham councils could cut library services, although decisions are not expected until next year.

NYCC announced plans to slash £2.3m off its library service budget last November.

Councillors suggested that libraries could be run by volunteers rather than paid employees.

The report also proposed taking the majority of the council's mobile libraries off the road.

But the plans were heavily criticised by communities who questioned whether enough volunteers and sufficient funding could be found to keep the branches open.

Last night, council leader John Weighell admitted the report had proved controversial.

He said: "The original proposal was for 18 libraries to take no cuts and 24 would almost totally be run by volunteers.

"A great furore was created by the consultation because this was considered not to be fair.

"We are going to relook at the situation of libraries throughout the county."

The U-turn was welcomed last night by library campaigner and author Mike Pannett, of Easingwold, near York.

He said: "Originally they thought the libraries would be a soft touch because of the type of people who use them, but they got an almighty shock that reverberated as far as Westminster."

NYCC has already found £650,000 to fund all libraries while further discussions take place.

Among the libraries which were due to have their funding cut were Great Ayton, Bedale and Easingwold.

Although the future of these libraries looks more secure, Coun Weighell said senior councillors would meet on June 14 to make a final decision.