An Alliance Party delegation met last night [20th] with the Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister, David Hanson, to demand more sensible allocation of Government funding after the South Eastern Education and Library Board (SEELB) put forward proposals to close many of Castlereagh’s libraries next year.
The delegation was led by East Belfast MLA Cllr Naomi Long and included Castlereagh Councillors Michael Long and Sara Duncan. Cllr Duncan handed over a petition with over 1000 signatures opposing any closure of the Newtownbreda library.
The SEELB proposals would see the closure of five out of seven of the local libraries including Newtownbreda and Belvoir Park, as well as the merger of the Gilnahirk and Braniel libraries with new services to be concentrated on the Tullycarnet and Cregagh sites.
Cllr Naomi Long said, “It is clear that the Boards are reacting to the constraints on their budgets imposed by Government. So while recognising that the Minister is not directly responsible for the individual decisions regarding closure, we stressed to him that money has to be more sensibly allocated to the Boards so they can continue to provide the library services that local people require.
“Many of the proposed closures are in areas of deprivation, such as Belvoir and Braniel, and the libraries are an excellent educational and community resource on their doorsteps. In recent months the Minister has said that he is keen to tackle deprivation. He has a real opportunity to take action to save a service which is making a positive contribution to these communities.”
Cllr Duncan added, “These proposed cuts would have a particularly devastating impact on the elderly and our young people. The huge response to the local petition shows the strength of feeling among the local community in favour of retaining the existing service. People want a library service that is accessible and the closure plans will tear the heart out of the community.”
Cllr. Michael Long said, “The Board’s strategy completely fails to recognise local factors in Castlereagh. Whilst some of the libraries may be within a few miles of other sites, the fact is that those using public transport would need to make at least two bus journeys to get to alternative sites as there are virtually no cross-Borough transport links. This would particularly disadvantage the most deprived in our community.
“We welcome the opportunity, as representatives of the community, to put these issues directly to the Minister and will now be looking for a favourable response.”