Plans to sell off a closed Wirral library have been criticised as “short-term thinking at its worst.”
Bromborough Civic Centre, which includes Bromborough Library, has been closed since 2022 after Wirral Council decided to close the building as part of sweeping budget cuts that year. Since then, plans have been developed for two organisations to take it over.
In February this year, a council committee voted to move to the next stage of the transfer and develop business plans with both bidders, Neo Community and the Bromborough Local Community Group Ltd.
Campaigners saw this as bringing the library one step closer to reopening with a final decision happening at a later date.
The future of the civic centre also played a significant role in the recent local elections with both Labour and the Greens supporting moving the building into community hands in a key battleground seat.
However, a report ahead of a tourism, communities, culture and leisure meeting has recommended that councillors sell off the building at a value of £600,000. This is because the council’s finance director instructed the council to look to sell off assets to balance its finances.
This is despite the council deeming both bids by Neo and the Bromborough Local Community Group as viable with high scores on how they would run the centre themselves. Bromborough councillor Ruth Molyneux also said the council’s financial position had not changed since February.
Neo Community, behind the highest scoring bid, has also received nearly £200,000 of National Lottery funding to help support a takeover for three years including paying for the role of community development manager. Neo said the recommendation could put this funding at risk.
Friends of Bromborough Library chair Mo Miller (pictured above) said they wanted to know what the long-term costs of a sale would be calling it “a knee-jerk reaction” to the council’s current financial position.
She added, “The community is devastated. Where will the children’s groups go? Where will the Lego club go? Where will the computers for people to job search go? Where will the children who don’t have a good space at home do their learning? Where will all the choirs go, the reading groups, and groups for old people who might like to get out more?
“At what cost is that against a small drop in the ocean saving for Wirral Borough Council? This is short-term thinking at its worst.”
Those in favour of its reopening argue the centre is “more than just a pile of books” and provided benefits from public toilets to meeting places for foster parent and mental health groups.
Tony Hotchkiss, who used to work as a social worker in the area, said, “The problem with the closure of the Bromborough Civic Centre is twofold. One, it removes a hub for the village and the surrounding area.
“Secondly, the existing economic situation within Bromborough village is deteriorating in that local businesses are closing primarily due to the lack of footfall and footfall was guaranteed by the civic centre being open.”
The proposal also comes at the end of a long campaign. Ms Miller said, “We have spent the last two years, I cannot tell you the number of meetings we have had with them all, with councillors from every party and every one of them has agreed on the importance of the civic centre.”
Kathy Bough, a former volunteer at the library, said the bids put forward “would have put the library in the 21st century,” adding: “There would have been something for everyone. I just feel we have got to the end and they have just said let’s sell it off.”
Margaret Cowd, from Bromborough, said, “When I was a child, I used the library every week. Then I brought my children here every week and it’s so sad I can’t bring my grandchildren here every week.”
Ema Wilkes, NEO Community’s CEO, said she understood the council’s financial position but added, “The fact still remains that there is a clear gap in provision in South Wirral, which we experienced first-hand when we were tasked with delivering more than 12,000 hampers for children eligible for free school meals during the pandemic.
“Regardless of the outcome of the vote, expanding from our Rock Ferry location into South Wirral will continue to be a strategic priority for Neo, in line with the growing need for the provision of food, essentials and access to social activities for families and individuals in the area. We will do what we have to ensure that no-one is left behind.”
Ahead of the meeting, Liberal Democrat leader Phil Gilchrist has called the sale proposal “a step too far” and Green councillor Ruth Molyneux, who sits on the committee, said: “I just see it as a quite short-sighted quick fix.”
She added, “The social benefits are far more wide-reaching and beneficial to the community and would cost the council far less money when it comes to things like antisocial behaviour. They have come forward with this new plan even though the financial position hasn’t changed.”
A spokesperson for Wirral Council said, “At this stage no decisions have been made and members of the committee will be asked to consider the report.”
Decisions on the future of Hoylake Golf Course, Woodchurch Leisure Centre and Brackenwood Golf Course are also expected at the meeting.
Main image: Demonstration outside Bromborough Civic Centre