TELEVISION naturalist Chris Packham has joined the fight to save Southampton’s libraries.

He has called on council chiefs to reverse their decision to review the future of five libraries, while a petition is set to be launched in a bid to protect them.

Mr Packham spoke as campaigners launched their bid to save the Cobbett Road, Burgess Road, Bitterne, Weston and Thornhill libraries.

Labour council leaders have launched a review of the city’s library service.

They are set to launch a consultation next week on plans to ask community groups to take over from the council at the five libraries, while the mobile library service could also be cut.

City finance boss Cllr Stephen Barnes- Andrews says that the council is not looking to close libraries but instead for community groups to take over.

But there are fears that groups will not be able to run the libraries, and in the review report officers admit that they may shut if community groups do not come forward.

Now Autumnwatch host Packham, who grew up in Southampton and regularly used the Cobbett Road library as a youngster, has called on council leaders to reverse the decision, which would save the authority £268,000 a year, and put more funding into the facilities.

He told the Daily Echo: “Libraries have modernised drastically in recent years, and are no longer just places full of books but also where people organise groups, can use media and the Internet and rent DVDs.

“They are tremendously valuable resources and are a far greater asset than they used to be. “I’m really disappointed about the council’s proposals.

“I do agree with the council that the volunteers should help to do some of the roles, and the community should get involved.

“But they should not be potentially closing them down, they should be thinking about expanding them through community engagement.

“Rather than potentially closing them down they ought to invest more in them.”

And Southampton resident Sam Goold – who says that he has used libraries in the city since he was a youngster and remains a regular user of the Burgess Road facility – is launching a petition and campaign calling on council chiefs to think again.

He is printing ‘Save our libraries’ stickers to hand out to hundreds of residents, and will be outside Burgess Road library with fellow campaigners on Saturday morning.

He said: “What I hope happens now is that Southampton as a city has a good think about what it wants from its libraries and campaigns to keep them open.

“Why have these libraries been chosen over other ones?

“It’s an unfair situation, that if you live in areas like Millbrook and Thornhill you may not have access to a library, whereas people in Portswood and Shirley would.”