High Court quashes decision to close Shropshire Library

On 5 April 2016, at the beginning of a three day judicial review hearing into Shropshire council’s decision to close Church Stretton Library, the defendant Council conceded that its decision was unlawful, agreed to quash the closure decision, and to lawfully reconsult.

 

The challenge to the Council’s decision to close Church Stretton library and relocate it within a local school was brought by local resident and library user Andrew Williams, with the support of Church Stretton Library Support Group (‘CSLSG’).

 

The Council had worked with the school since early 2014 to come up with a proposal to relocate the Church Stretton library from its current position to the school’s premises. These meetings were almost exclusively between the Council, the school and other community organisations whose interests were intimately bound up with, and served by, the relocation of the library; and about which the general public were not aware. Minutes of the group’s meetings showed that by July 2014 they had dropped the option of the library remaining where it is.

 

In September 2014, the Council started a ‘community conversation’ in relation to the relocation of the library, following which CSLSG was established to campaign for the library to stay where it is. CSLSG provided a detailed and reasoned proposal to keep the library in its current location, run by members of the public, for the public. The formal consultation period ended in March 2015 following which the Council stuck with its ‘preferred option’ and the decision was taken to close and move the library.

 

Judicial review proceedings were commenced to challenge the Council’s decision on the basis that it had no proper library policy or strategy as required by section 7 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, and that the consultation was fundamentally unfair due to the Council’s ‘preferred option’ always being its preordained option. It was also later argued that the Council had failed to comply with its duties under the Localism Act 2011.

 

In August 2015, the High Court granted permission to challenge the decision, and also granted a prohibitory order preventing the Council, the school and other interested parties from taking any further steps to close and relocate the library.

 

The substantive challenge was scheduled to be heard on 5 April 2016 for three days. However, at the door of the court, the Council accepted that its decision was unlawful and agreed to the decision being quashed. In particular, the Council accepted that it does not have a section 7 PLMA compliant library policy, and that it had not properly considered the Claimant and CSLSG’s proposal under the Localism Act 2011.

 

The Council has undertaken to faithfully consider any expression of interest the Claimant and CSLSG make under the Localism Act 2011, as well as to lawfully reconsult with the option to keep the library in its current position.

 

CSLSG’s press statement can be found here.

 

The Claimant was represented by Nicholas Bowen Q.C and Graeme Hall, who were instructed by Michael Imperato, partner at Watkins Gunn Solicitors.

 

For more information please see:

 

Important Postscript

 

Recent internet publications by the Defendant and the Chief Executive of Shropshire Council have been drawn to the Claimant’s attention. The regrettable tone of some of those publications aside, counsel for the Claimant feel duty bound to respond to those publications; parts of which are factually inaccurate:

  • The first offer to compromise the proceedings came from the Defendant, not the Claimant.
  • At no stage did Counsel for the Claimant suggest that the proceedings should be compromised on the basis that he would not seek his legal costs from the Defendant.  It was the Claimant’s case that the Council should pay inter partes costs given that the Defendant had agreed to a quashing order and to a reconsideration according to law so costs should follow the event.  However, the Defendant’s unwavering position communicated via their counsel was that it would only agree to quash the decision and reconsult if there was no order as to costs.  The 1st justification for the quashing of the decision to relocate the library being the lack of a lawful policy and assessment of need and the Council’s consequent breach of s7 of the Public Museums and Libraries Act 1964.
  • The Defendant has at no stage during these proceedings invited the Claimant or CSLSG to submit an expression of interest  to run the Library pursuant to the Localism Act 2011. Indeed, the 2nd reason the Defendant was prepared to accept that its decision was unlawful was that it had not properly directed the Claimant’s attention to the possibility of submitting an expression of interest under the Localism Act 2011, and/or that it had failed to treat CSLSG’s proposal to keep the library where it is as an expression of interest pursuant to s81 of the 2011 Act.  Given this concession the Defendant’s stance on the 2011 Act during these proceedings that Chapter 2 of Part 5 of the Act constituted an alternative remedy to judicial review proceedings was all the more surprising.

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