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Councillors quiz Libraries NI head

Representatives from Libraries NI came under fire last week at a meeting of Castlereagh Borough Council.

Chief executive Irene Knox and colleagues presented Libraries NI current proposals to members at the monthly meeting, on February 25.

Currently under public consultation, the proposals have left seven local libraries under threat of closure — Ballymacarret, Belvoir, Ballyhackamore, Gilnahirk, Braniel, Woodstock, and Tullycarnet.

Despite Ms Knox’ explaining the vision of a “modern library service”councillors said they remained concerned about the closures and that people just wanted “access” to books.

Speaking for all her DUP party colleagues, Councillor Joanne Bunting said the situation had arisen from “decades of under investment”.

She added: “Public transport is a vital problem when it comes to closing local libraries.

“You cannot travel from one side of Castlereagh to the other without first travelling into Belfast City Centre.

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“Libraries are the heart of local communities in Castlereagh and closing them could increase social isolation.”

Councillor Michael Long raised concerns that not enough public meetings had been held.

He further criticised that any meetings that have taken place have been held in libraries not facing closure, asking “will there be other meetings in areas where the proposed closures will take place?”

But Ms Knox made clear no new meetings would be arranged, adding: “At the meetings so far we have gathered a wide range of views.”

At the meeting it did emerge that alternative measures may be found.

Ms Knox said: “We are looking at alternative ways to bring library provisions into the area.”

Councillor Gareth Robinson said: “If this was made clearer, you might not get such a negative reaction.”

As part of the scheme other libraries may receive new builds, require minor works, or be clustered together forming a single entity.

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