Ottery’s library is in a building around 100 years old, which is clearly unsuitable for its current use, as it is small without disabled access, although staff do their best for less mobile visitors.
It has lacked investment over the years, perhaps because of its age. Ottery St Mary Town Council owns the building and DCC pays rent.
Ottery’s library is very popular, and although it has seen a reduction in visitor numbers in the past two to three years, this is in line with other libraries across the county when the hours were cut in the last administration.
It provides an important social centre, and this was demonstrated at recent public meetings where many people spoke of how important the library has been to them, for a variety of health and social reasons.
I think most people would acknowledge that a new premises is required.
There are buildings in the centre of the town that many of us believe may be suitable to run the service from.
I agree with Ottery St Mary Town Council that the two models currently proposed by DCC, are too restrictive.
In particular, I do not believe that the current proposal for Ottery’s library allows for towns that have a large and rapidly growing population, such as Ottery St Mary, which is set to grow by around 25 per cent over the next 10 years or so.
Almost all other towns that are subject to similar levels of growth have been identified as “Devon centres.”
Ottery’s library of course, provides a service not just for the town, but for the surrounding villages, such as West Hill, Tipton St John and Whimple, for example. A large number of people – young and old – rely on the service and its proximity.
Several schools have already expressed their concern publicly at the proposals to withdraw public funding from the library, including The King’s School and West Hill Primary School.
Finally and importantly, you may be aware that Ottery St Mary is one of three towns selected for the “delivering differently” project, which is a cabinet office initiative aimed at helping communities find a way forward amid the multitude of service cuts that they are faced with.
Because of the town’s involvement with delivering differently – and the enthusiasm with which the community is moving forward with the project, we believe that there is a strong case for Ottery to be looked at individually.
The thrust of delivering differently appears to be about providing high level guidance to enable the three communities can then work on their own solutions to the somewhat devastating service cuts. Presumably, this learning could then be applied across Devon.
I am very glad that Ottery St Mary has been selected for delivering differently and am pleased that the town council and the community is positive about moving forward and are determined to retain the service in one way or another.
A campaign group has been established for some weeks now and are working on trying to find a way to retain the service in a different format.
The community does need, however, DCC to recognise that for a variety of reasons, Ottery does not fall neatly into the model that has been ascribed to it.
I very much hope that we can work together on a way forward that best meets the town’s needs – the current proposal is not the answer. You will find Ottery St Mary a receptive and motivated community to work with.