THERE are renewed hopes that five closure-threatened libraries in Southampton will be saved.

Civic chiefs have revealed they now have preferred options to take on each of the libraries that the city council will stop running on April 1.

Seven groups came forward to take over the five libraries - and library campaigners now say they have a "glimmer of hope" that they will not be marking their last National Libraries Day today.

With Government grant cuts and service cuts, the proposals to stop running Cobbett Road, Millbrook, Thornhill, Weston and Burgess Road libraries were first put forward a year-and-a-half ago.

The plans, which will also see the mobile library axed, were approved last year with the move set to save the city council £268,000 a year but cost six jobs.

Labour council chiefs have insisted at every opportunity that the plan is not to close the libraries, but to allow community groups take them on and deliver a "sustainable" future for them.

But the proposals have brought figures such as BBC presenter Chris Packham and children's author Ali Sparkes, both of who used Cobbett Road Library as youngsters, together with campaigners and opposition councillors against the plans.

Libraries including Cobbett Road and Burgess Road will be holding free activities today and the city council issued a press release publicising the events, with city leisure chief Satvir Kaur saying: "Libraries in Southampton are a much loved public service and play an important part in local communities within the city" and urging residents to get involved in the activities.

However that has led her opposite number, Conservative leisure and finance spokesman John Hannides, to accuse her and Labour of "hypocrisy", saying: "I find it very hypocritical that people who are very quick to tell us how important the libraries are are the very same ones who are proposing to close half of the city's libraries.

"Ultimately they could have reflected their belief in our libraries by making the funding available to guarantee their future."

Recently the city council discovered that it would receive better-than-expected grant funding from the Government, meaning the budget gap for 2016/17 has reduced from £39m to £33m, and Cllr Hannides says that would have allowed the council to go back on their decision to stop running the libraries and find the extra £268,000.

He also repeated accusations that Labour had "put a gun to the head" of communities over the future of libraries and that the consultation carried out, which Labour says shows support for their proposals was manipulated, with questions "skewed in a way to give them an excuse to say that closing the libraries was the least worst option" and containing no option for the council to continue running libraries.

Responding to his accusations, Cllr Kaur, below, said: "We needed to transform the library service within the financial context that the council finds itself in and we went to consultation with a preferred option which the majority of respondents agreed with.

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"It hasn't been an easy process, change is never easy.

"However I want to give credit to all of the community groups and partnership organisations, they have come together with the council to ensure we do have solutions so that no library building will close in Southampton."

With regards to the better grant settlement, she said Cllr Hannides was "short-termist", adding: "It's about trying to set the foundations for a long and sustainable future for community hubs which have managed to do successfully.

"It's about delivering services differently which we are going to have to look at as a council as a result of central Government cuts."

Cllr Kaur said the council now has preferred options for each of the five libraries from April 4, and she hopes to make an announcement towards the end of this month.

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Two of the bids being considered are for Cobbett Road Library, above, with two community groups expressing an interest in taking it on.

Social Care in Action is a not for profit group of social enterprises delivering care, community transport, dentistry and training and has experience running community buildings transferred from statutory agencies to the community.

Group chief executive Ruth Marriott said: “We want to develop the library as a community hub where different groups can meet for a range of activities, meetings, rent hot-desk space, and opportunities to use the library to improve employment opportunities and remove barriers to work for those with mental health and learning difficulties.

“We want the community to see it as a space where they can ‘bump’ into each other, reduce isolation, and enable people to socialise as well as maintain the library itself. We believe literacy skills and the love of reading are key to being able to participate fully in the community and the library offers the opportunity to build on reading as a key skill whether for enjoyment or employability.”

SCA also plans to open a café and the proposal includes working with Hampshire drama group Unexpected Places.

They are being supported by the Friends of Cobbett Road Library group, which was unable to bid to take it on itself.

Group secretary Rachel Hickman said: “We have been devastated but this is the first glimmer of hope.

“We aren’t able to run it as volunteers – most Friends are in their 80s so we can’t ask them to be signing a lease to take over a whole building."

At Burgess Road Library the Burgess Road Library Action Group (BRLAG) has teamed up with the nearby Christ Church Southampton to try and keep it open.

Group secretary Liz Weston said that the church may fund the refurbishment and running costs for the library in exchange for using some rooms for office space and the rest of the library outside opening hours.

She said: "BRLAG will be responsible for running the library, sourcing and managing volunteers and looking to continue to grow it as a community resource, with lots of existing and new events for all in the local area during library opening hours.

"We are endeavouring to keep as many of the events and services offered by the library unchanged as possible, although exactly when the various events will run and when the library opening hours will be has not yet been decided.

She said that the library will be run by up to 50 volunteers and be open 26 hours a week - just three hours less than it is currently open.

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer at the library should contact the group at The city council has said all libraries will be able to use equipment and book stocks if they are taken over.