Dimming lights lessens cuts to libraries

COUNCIL leaders have defended cutting library hours to save £273,000 from South Gloucestershire’s budget. 

Downend and Staple Hill libraries are among eight which will be staffed for half a day less than before, while Emersons Green will close earlier each day, with staffed opening hours are limited to 10am to 5pm, plus three hours on Saturdays.

Cabinet member for communities Sean Rhodes (Lab, Kingswood) told a council meeting on April 15 that original proposals were to cut library spending by £473,000, but a £200,000 annual saving from dimming street lights meant that less needed to be taken from the library budget.

Lights will be dimmed to a quarter of their normal brightness from 11pm to 6am each night to cut electricity costs.

Cllr Rhodes said the budget for books would go down by only half of the £50,000 initially planned and that all branches would have longer staffed hours than first anticipated.

But Conservative Frenchay & Downend ward councillor Liz Brennan criticised the Lib Dem/Labour administration for cutting library services in “priority neighbourhoods” with higher levels of deprivation.

Cllr Rhodes said: “We have to balance the issue around footfall in different neighbourhoods, and actually the footfall for libraries is higher elsewhere than in priority neighbourhoods.

“Disproportionately cutting hours at libraries with big footfall doesn’t necessarily make full sense.”

Trade union Unison had called the original cuts – which included cutting a full day of opening at Cadbury Heath, Patchway and Winterbourne libraries – “discriminatory”. It claimed they would leave the council unable to meet its legal duty to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” library service.

Cllr Rhodes said council officers had been in regular contact with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to the authority complied with its legal responsibilities.

He said: “The crucial thing to acknowledge is that with the initial proposal, the potential impact of these changes was far greater, and officers have worked really hard to come up with a solution with us to mitigate this.

“There was clear opposition from the public consultation process to the budget reduction for buying books, so we’ve found mitigations in other areas.”

Cllr Rhodes said the Open Access scheme, which enables residents to use libraries when they are not staffed, worked well but a quarter of people responding to the budget consultation were not aware of it.

The plan to dim street lights received broad public support – 69% – during consultations, and trials over the winter led to only one complaint, that lights should be turned down further.

However one in 10 of the 783 respondents said the change would make them feel more vulnerable.

Cabinet member for climate and nature emergency Louise Harris (Lib Dem, Dodington) said dimming street lights was good for wildlife and people.

She said: “Sleep disorders, depression, diabetes, heart disease and indeed cancer are linked to artificial light at night. It affects our diurnal and nocturnal activities.”

It will take engineers two years to reprogramme all 31,500 street lamps individually to dim between 11pm and 6am.

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service