PRESSURE is mounting for councillors to abandon plans to reduce opening hours at 38 county libraries.

Facing cuts of nearly £190m by 2017, Labour-led Durham County Council is consulting on cutting opening times to 36 hours a week at 11 town centre libraries and 20 hours per week at 27 community branches, in a bid to save £1.5m.

Labour chiefs say they are facing unprecedented cuts and the only alternative would be to close some branches entirely.

However, local anti-cuts campaigns are gaining strength across the county ahead of final decisions – expected this summer.

Yesterday, campaigners from Belmont, Durham City, presented a petition of more than 2,000 signatures to County Hall – making their case outside the building as Labour councillors arrived for a cabinet meeting.

The We Love Belmont Library campaign is fighting a proposal to reduce its opening hours from 43 hours a week to 20.

Barbara Howarth, chairwoman of Belmont Parish Council, said: “This is more than a 50 per cent cut. Lots of other libraries across the county would lose fewer hours.”

Eric Mavin, a Liberal Democrat county councillor for Belmont, said: “The council has not taken into consideration the people in the area and the usage.

Residents feel the community has been unfairly targeted.”

Meanwhile, Lib Dems have again criticised the proposals, saying they have shown how the money needed to protect library services could be saved elsewhere -– by cutting councillors’ costs, management, communications and scrapping the council’s magazine.

However, Councillor Maria Plews, the council’s cabinet member for leisure, libraries and lifelong learning, who received the petition yesterday, said the council needed to save £159.2m by 2015-16 and respond to changing demand for library services.

“These proposals would enable us to keep all our libraries open and make the required savings while still providing a high quality service.

“However, I understand the concerns of Belmont residents and welcome this petition. We will take this into account in making a final decision later this year.”

The consultation closes on Friday, May 4. To take part, call 0191-383-4403.