A college has defended its bid to take over the running of a library after coming under fire from campaigners.

New City College has tabled a bid to assume control of Debden Library after Essex County Council (ECC) signalled it was open for a partner to take over management of the service.

Under the proposals, the building – which is situated in New City College’s Epping Forest campus in Borders Lane – would become what the county council has labelled a “community-based library”.

The plans would see the library increase its opening hours from four days to six days a week and book stock would still be managed by the county council.

However, campaign group Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) has voiced opposition over the move and will hold a public meeting next month to discuss the proposals.

“The entire process is lacking any transparency” a spokesperson for SOLE said. “There is nothing to stop the college deciding in future it would rather use the space for something else. Essex Library Services must not be broken up.”

New City College Epping Forest campus principal Janet Smith moved quash any fears the library would be repurposed under its leadership.

She said: “I would like to reassure local residents and other users of the library that our sincere intention is to protect and enhance the current library service in Debden.”

The college has also proposed to run adult learning classes at the site and has pledged to continue to run activities for children in the library.

The library is currently managed by the county council and is part of the statutory library network.

The county council is keen for community partners to take over management of its libraries following a pilot project in 2017 which the council claims proved the scheme “can work where the conditions are right”.

In Essex there are currently seven community libraries – which the county council website states “may not have the full range of library services” – in Chrishall, Finchingfield, Great Bromley, Jaywick, Lamarsh, Ramsey, and Steeple Bumpstead.

“The council sees community involvement as key to the future vitality of libraries in Essex”, ECC’s website states.

“By running your own community-run library you can tailor it to meet local needs and decide things like opening hours, events and activities you’ll run and how you’ll raise funds.

“The idea is tried and tested. A third of library services in England have community-run libraries.”

SOLE, who have long campaigned against the scaling back of public library services in the county, claim it is "a myth that so-called community libraries will be community led”.

“If Essex County Council is going to be led by what the local community wants, it would continue with its statutory duty to provide a professionally staffed library service”, a spokesperson for the group added.

“Rather than abandoning this responsibility to an organisation that is not elected by local people and is not accountable to local people.

“What involvement is the local community having in this? None whatsoever.

The college has opened a public consultation of the plans and is calling for residents to share their views online: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/DebdenLibrary

Epping Forest Guardian:

For more breaking news, local headlines and features, ‘like’ our Facebook page.

We also have a Twitter account: @EppingFGuardian

Follow us to keep up-to-date with news in Epping Forest.