COUNCIL leaders have defended spending £99,000 on a new heating system – at a library threatened with closure.

Conservative opponents labelled the situation where Cobbett Road Library, in Bitterne, is getting the new system despite its future hanging in the balance as “shambolic”.

They claimed it would cost only half this to keep the library open for another year.

And campaigners battling to keep the libraries open said they were “bewildered” by the decision to spend the cash on a heating system that currently worked.

This came as Tory councillors attacked the Labour group’s review of the city’s libraries and accused them of misleading the public about their efforts to find a solution.

Council chiefs have launched a review which could see five libraries, including Cobbett Road, axed if community groups do not come forward to take them over.

Bitterne, Millbrook, Weston, Thornhill and Burgess Road, as well as the mobile library, are also at risk.

The cash-strapped council – which recently approved 226 job losses – says the move would save £303,000 a year.

A public consultation prompted 6,300 responses and on Wednesday campaigners took to the streets.

Daily Echo: Council leader Simon Letts.

Cllr Simon Letts

Council leader Simon Letts said the council had a duty of care to public buildings and maintaining it kept options open, saying there was a possibility its use could change, but no decisions had been made.

But conservative Bitterne Park councillor Peter Baillie, pictured, said: “The library could be shut in April 2016 with a £99,000 new heating system – it could be rubble by then.

“You can’t spend £50,000 to keep it going for a year but fund £99,000 for a new heating system – it’s just shambolic.”

The Conservatives also claimed a Freedom of Information request revealed there had been no meetings by any Labour councillors or any council officers on this subject.

But Cllr Letts said the Tories were “misleading the public into believing you have actually been actively trying to find a solution to the issue”.

He added that up until the consultation closed the council could not have potential conversations with people that could be running the libraries as they could be accused of pre-determining their position.

Cllr Letts added that did not mean there had been no work going on.

Daily Echo:

Campaigner Rachel Hickman

Rachel Hickman, secretary of the Friends of Cobbett Road Library said she was “bewildered” by the decision especially as she said the current heating system worked.

“It just seems ridiculous timing,” she added.

“Why would you spend £99,000 on a library you are intending to close?

“Why not hold off on that and use the £99,000 to keep it open for another two years.”

After the meeting Cllr Letts told the Daily Echo that whatever decision was made on the Cobbett Road Library’s future, there were no plans to knock it down but keep it for community use.