THE AXE finally fell on half of Wirral's libraries this week.

They could now close as early as next month along with two museums, two dozen community centres and the Pacific Road Arts Centre.

Despite last minute objections by a handful of rebel Liberal Democrats and a noisy protest in the public gallery, Wirral Council voted to approve its massive cuts programme at a meeting of all its 66 councillors on Monday evening.

The "full council" approved the findings of its controversial "strategic assets review" that will see the libraries of Beechwood, Eastham, Higher Bebington, Hoylake, Irby, New Ferry, Prenton, Ridgeway, Seacombe, Wallasey Village and Woodchurch close.

Hundreds of people attended the meeting which had to be suspended several times by Mayor Adrian Jones as people heckled, one woman was removed from the public gallery and shouts were heard accusing the council of acting like “cultural terrorists".

The vote for the closures was won by a margin of just four.

Supporting the closures, council leader Steve Foulkes, who was heckled constantly through the meeting, said: “I have never pretended and have not hid away in some corner. I have told it straight. We need to move together as a community.

“We are the people who make decisions and we have the bottle to make those decisions. My mantra is to make council tax one of the cheapest in the country.”

In a night when insults were being swapped across the chamber, Cllr Foulkes and Simon Holbrook, who is Liberal Democrat group leader and deputy leader of the council, were accused by Conservative councillor Leah Fraser of acting like "Laurel and Hardy".

The council is currently run by an alliance of Labour and Liberal Democrat coumcillors, as the two parties together form a majority bigger than the Conservatives, who have the most seats out of all three.

All Labour members all voted in favour of the closures, but at the height of the protests there were six rebel Liberal Democracts voting against their own party's wishes.

Afterwards, Lib Dem Cllr Holbrook said: “The decision was made after lots of soul searching. It was always going to be difficult and you can see from the vote that it was not easy for our group at all.

“We have gone through a major consultation, the council has responded and has made significant changes from the original proposals.

“The fact remains that even with the decisions made 99% of people in the borough live within two miles of a public library.”

Council leader Steve Foulkes said afterwards: “The decision is now enshrined in council policy and will form part of the budgetary resolution.

"We will save the council taxpayer abourt £3.1m in revenue savings and have rescued certain key facilities as part of a consultation, which has been well documented, and will try to maintain these facilities to a higher standard and bring newer, better facilities on as part of investment over the next four years.

“We would ask people to engage in the community transfer issues, by getting involved in a community centre, play an active part in that process.

"Don’t listen to the people who are selling the negative side and get involved in the positive.

"We’ve had a massive consultation exercise and I’ve met more people in the last couple of months than I’ve ever met on any particular subject. I’ve made some friends and made some enemies, but I actually believe people have engaged in the process and want to harness that enthusiasm now about the new vision. We have to draw the line somewhere.

"This is all about keeping council tax at a reasonable level, maintaining the budget and improving the council’s status nationally, against all the inspections we had.

"If we hadn’t have tackled this asset review, this would have been a millstone around council tax payers’ necks for years and years to come, to the tune of £45m, which would be a massive hike in council tax."

As well as repeated calls for Cllr Foulkes’ resignation, comments shouted from the public gallery during the heated four hour meeting, included: "You’re a cultural terrorist", "The fight has only started", "Shame on you, shame on you" and "You don’t represent us at all!"

Wallasy Conservative councillor Leah Fraser said: "This is not the behaviour of a sane or rational administration. Whoever put the strategic asset review together has clearly never used a library.

"We have heard from the user groups at many of the leisure centres that they have never been consulted.

"The taxpayers of Wirral have yet to hear the apology from the leader of this council as to how he got us into this mess. Yet still we hear the tired old words from Cllr Foulkes that doing nothing is not an option. We wonder what made him come to that conclusion now? After 20 years of a Labour-dominated council, doing nothing.

"The cabinet has no mandate for these cuts. They do not have the ability to deal with the problems they have created and they do not have the confidence of the people of this Borough."

And Alec McFadden, secretary of the TUC, declared: “We may have lost the battle, but the war against this cultural terrorism will continue.”