Library chiefs are set to go head-to-head with campaigners in an online meeting over the future of Essex's libraries.

Cllr Sue Barker, cabinet member responsible for libraries, will be meeting online with representatives of Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) in a Zoom meeting on Monday, February 22.

She will be joined by bosses of New City College - bidding to become the first takeover of an Essex library at Debden.

A spokesperson for SOLE said: "'We are pleased college and council leaders have agreed to join this public discussion.

"It is an opportunity for the local community to ask college leaders what their motivation is for wanting to take over Debden Library? What are their plans for it? Will they be employing trained, professional, frontline, library staff, or simply relying on students as part of their vocational training? It will also be a chance for people from further afield to quiz council leaders on their plans for charity shop libraries."

College leadership has previously moved to assure campaigners any take over would not diminish the level of service provided by the library.

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.

New City College Epping Forest campus principal Janet Smith previously 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”.

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”.

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