THE proposed closure of some Hampshire libraries has been described as “a devastating blow for communities”.

Hampshire County Council has announced its intention to close eight of the 48 council-run libraries and reduce the opening hours of the remaining ones by an average of 20%.

The authority is also set to withdraw its support to four community libraries.

The move aimed at saving £1.76m would put 50 jobs at risk.

County bosses said the authority will still be providing a comprehensive library service.

But concerns have been raised over the proposals and the future of the four community libraries.

A final decision on the proposed changes is set to be made on July 28.

As reported, the authority is proposing to shut for good libraries in Blackfield and Lyndhurst in the New Forest, Fair Oak Library in Fair Oak,  South Ham  in Basingstoke, Elson library in Gosport, Horndean in East Hampshire,Lee-on-the-Solent library in Gosport and Odiham library in Hart.

Chineham library in Basingstoke and Emsworth library in Havant  – which were also under threat – would remain open.

The news comes as communities across the county raised concerns over the proposals and launched petitions which were presented to the county council.

The Hampshire Authors for Libraries group that campaigned against the plans said: "At a time when thousands of Hampshire children have been cut off from school, and thrown back on their home resources, or lack of them, the decision to go ahead with closing libraries and reducing library opening hours is scandalous. These are not “difficult choices”, Hampshire County Council puts it, they are closed-minded, short-sighted and altogether wrong choices. The pandemic and lockdown has revealed how desperately we need community spaces, places where learning can flourish, sanctuaries for education and the imagination. These are not cuts to library services, they are wounds inflicted on Hampshire communities. The Hampshire Authors for Libraries group appeals to County Councillors to reconsider before it is definitively too late."

Following today’s news Cllr Keith House, leader of the opposition at the county council, said: “This is a devastating blow for 12 communities around Hampshire, alongside reductions in hours across the County.  It shows the Conservative Party’s mismanagement of public finances in one of the wealthiest countries of the world that cannot now even afford to properly maintain a library service. ”

As reported, the  proposals sparked a campaign backed by authors including Neil Gaiman and David Nicholls.

According to the plans set to be approved next week, Kingsclere Community Library, Lowford Community Library, Milford-on-Sea Community Library and North Baddesley Community Library  will no longer be supported by the county council and will have to be run entirely by volunteers.

County bosses said these libraries will be able to apply for a one-off grant of up to £10,000 to support the transition.

But Alan Dowden, councillor for the Baddesley division, said he fears for the future of these libraries.

He said: “This will be the end of them you can’t expect people giving up their time for free and at the same time they have to raise the funding as well. It’s too much and it is very unfair on people.”

But county council said eight libraries proposed for closure account for 5% of county council’s total issues and visits and “therefore together with the mitigation proposed and the increasing popularity of the digital service it is considered that the closure of these libraries would not affect the county council’s ability to maintain a comprehensive and efficient service.”

Cllr Sean Woodward, executive member for recreation and heritage at the county council, said the authority is facing almost £110m of unplanned costs due to the pandemic.

He added: “We continue to work hard to minimise the impact on residents. Our proposals are that community library management groups are given enough notice to enable them time to arrange for the transition of services. Hampshire County Council has an excellent library service and will continue to do so with at least 40 libraries.  It is important in planning library services to recognise changed circumstances as physical book borrowing drops and new services are introduced to share the printed word.  We have listened to over 21,000 respondents and have made positive changes to our proposals as a result.”

If approved, the changes are set to be completed by the end of the year, according to an official document.

A consultation on reduced opening hours is set to be held next month and will be followed by consultations with staff.