ELEVEN of Wirral’s 24 public libraries are to close, it was confirmed tonight.

Pacific Road Arts Centre is also to lose council funding, as will Grange Road West Sports and Leasowe Recreation Centres.

The Wirral Museum – housed in the former Birkenhead Town Hall building in Hamilton Square – is also being axed.

And a further 24 community centres and village halls throughout the borough will also lose their funding, to be transferred instead into “voluntary community management” – if that can be attained.

Woodchurch Leisure Centre – which had also originally been earmarked for closure – was saved to the delight of campaigners.

But the historic Guinea Gap Recreation Centre in Seacombe won just a two-year reprieve, and its future will be “reviewed” again in 2011.

Leading Tory councillor Leah Fraser immediately condemned the news as “appalling” and said: “This will send shockwaves through local communities.”

Birkenhead Central Library will be saved for now – although the library itself could move to a new multi-purpose building in the future, with the building itself maintained for other uses.

The death knell for the libraries arrived just after 6.30pm from the mouth of council leader Steve Foulkes, addressing the borough’s ruling “cabinet” committee at Wallasey Town Hall.

Around 600 members of the public, who had earlier protested outside with flags, banners, whistles and loudhailers, crammed themselves into the Civic Hall to hear Cllr Foulkes’ address.

All ten members of the “cabinet” – five Labour and five Liberal Democrats – were loudly booed by the protestors as they entered the hall.

Libraries to close are those at Beechwood, Eastham, Higher Bebington, Hoylake, Irby, New Ferry, Prenton, Ridgeway, Seacombe, Wallasey Village and Woodchurch.

Facilities to be “transferred” out of council control and into community management – if anyone is prepared to take them on – are Hoylake Community Centre, Westbourne Community Centre, Livingstone Street Community Centre, Noctorum Community Centre, Leasowe Lighthouse, Secombe Community Centre, The Grange, Grosvenor Ballroom, Vale House, Greasby Community Centre, Overton Community Centre, Delamere Community Centre, Mayer Hall, New Ferry Village Hall, 65 The Village, Victoria Hall, Windsor Close Community Centre, Heswall Hall, Turntable Building, Kylemore Community Centre, Alexander Hall, Pensby Community Centre and Leasowe Community Centre.

Negotiations are currently underway to transfer the control of Leasowe Recreation Centre into the hands of a housing association.

Libraries being saved – apart from Birkenhead Central – are Wallasey Central, itself likely to move to a new multi-purpose building – Upton, which will now also serve Woodchurch, and Pensby.

Facilities the closed libraries offer at present could be transferred into children’s centres, schools and “community centres or other council buildings” within those same areas, declared the cabinet resolution that was passed unanimously.

To replace lost services, the council also confirmed tonight that it will build five “major multi-purpose complexes” in Bebington, Birkenhead, Liscard, Moreton and West Kirby.

Similar, but smaller, complexes are also to open in Greasby, Heswall, Leasowe, Rock Ferry, and St James in north Birkenhead.

When talking about the “transfer” of libraries into “community management”, Cllr Foulkes was loudly jeered when he said that mechanism presented “an exciting prospect” for the communities losing out.

But he was cheered when he attempted to quieten the rowdy protestors by saying: “I know you don’t trust me as far as you can throw me.”

Cllr Foulkes said “serious expressions of interest” had been declared by parties interested in taking over Pacific Road Arts Centre.

And he said Wirral Transport Museum – also currently housed as Pacific Road – would be transferred into a community development trust.

The savings that the swathe of cuts represented to council tax payers, he said – while reiterating that all the cuts were designed to keep any council tax rises to a minimum – would be £3.1m .

But he admitted that STILL leaves the council having to find savings elsewhere of £8.7m.

Barracked by the protestors, Cllr Foulkes replied by saying: “If I was to be hit by a bus tomorrow, there would still be the budget issues and problems for this council.”

Liscard Conservative Councillor Leah Fraser, a prospective parliamentary candidate for Wallasey, told the Globe: “I am stunned and annoyed. This will send shockwaves through our communities.

“Once again, through Guinea Gap’s tiny two year reprieve and the closure of Seacombe and Wallasey Village libraries, Wallasey has lost out. This council does not care about Wallasey.”

And Jeff Green, Tory group leader on the council, declared to the Globe: “This council has lost the plot. I pledge now that any facility this council closes, we will reopen.

“We will hold a moratorium on all land sales when there has been an election. The public, who have clearly been forgotten in all of this, will decide. I promise you that.”

Resident Geoff McKeown, from Greasby, said: “They’ve clearly started out with a list of things they want to close, presented the public with a worse case scenario, then ‘saved’ a couple of things while closing all the facilities they wanted to in the first place.

“It’s an absolute disgrace. They are trying to pretend they have taken into account what the public have said when really it was all a done deal in the first place.”

Wirral West MP Stephen Hesford, who last month described the cuts proposals as the “wholesale slaughter of public services”, told the Globe tonight: “While I am disappointed to see some of our much-loved and valued facilities have not been saved I do appreciate that some understanding of the needs of our community have been recognised.

“What we need to do now is continue the fight to make sure that the community needs of places like Hoylake and Irby are fully reassessed.

“I will be talking to senior councillors about this on Friday.”


Additional reporting by Craig Manning and Carol Emmas