Essex County Council has disputed claims that it held "secret" meetings with people and groups bidding to take over libraries.

The authority held meetings for community groups interested in taking over the running of libraries. These took place at Pitsea Library on December 2, at Greenstead Library on December 4, Ongar Library and Great Baddow Library on Thursday, December 5.

Campaign group Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) handed out leaflets outside the Greenstead and Ongar meetings to dissuade groups and individuals from continuing with takeover bids, which it describes as a 'closure plan by stealth'.

A SOLE spokesperson said: "Essex County Council managers seemed most alarmed when they saw us outside these secret meetings. "They're obviously unhappy that we have found out about these secret events, albeit at very late notice which limited our response. In Greenstead we saw only one bidder going into the meeting, but alas they would not engage with us.

"Let's be clear. Plans to get rid of all the staff from these particular libraries, sell off the library buildings, and have groups house and run these libraries voluntarily, is a closure plan by stealth.

"'However it is particularly galling that the county council continues to go about this process in such a cloak and dagger style. Why the secrecy?

"Local communities must at the very least have the right to know who is taking over their local library. This is essential for transparency and democracy."

An Essex County Council spokesperson said: “These are not secret meetings. They are meetings to which community groups who have made an expression of interest in running a community library were invited to talk through the details of the recently published community-run libraries Information Pack and ask any questions they may have.

“They were administrative in nature and included nothing about the process which has not already been placed in the public domain by the county council.”