CAMPAIGNERS are anxiously awaiting further information on County Hall’s plans for the future of library services after a U-turn over potential closures.

Last year, Essex County Council unveiled plans to close 25 libraries across the county.

Of the 49 which would remain, 19 could have been staffed and run by community groups if volunteers came forward.

The council had labelled each library under one of four tiers.

Tier 1 and 2 were libraries which would remain open and managed by the council.

Libraries falling into the Tier 3 category faced an uncertain future but would have stayed open if a community organisation or partner stepped forward to run them.

Tier 4 libraries faced closure.

Holland Library, in Frinton Road, was earmarked for closure, while bosses hoped Brightlingsea, Frinton, Walton and West Clacton libraries would be run by community groups.

But at a meeting of council on Tuesday, leader David Finch announced no libraries would be closing and the council would instead plough millions of pounds into transforming them.

He said the consultation had “galvanized love of libraries”.

However, some libraries will be run by groups which came forward to say they would be interested in having a role in the centres.

Mr Finch said: “I am delighted people have rallied behind their local libraries and have a renewed energy for them to remain open.

“This is just what we wanted and now we will respond by ensuring all Essex libraries will stay open during the new strategy we are drawing up.

“However, we must respond to the changing market and how people use the library service with so many other competitors in the field.

“It has also showed that a large number of local groups wish to run their library and turn it much more into a community centre.

“We shall now work with them to ensure this happens and we shall invest in them as well as all our libraries across Essex.”

Mr Finch said the council would invest in libraries across the next five years to make them “fit for the 21st century”.

He said the council would be investing £3 million.

But opposition councillors called for more details on the proposals.

Labour’s Julie Young suggested the move was a “need to save seats, not libraries”.

She called for the libraries to be manned by paid County Hall staff.

Thousands of people responded to the consultation, took part in protests and signed petitions.

County Hall saw more than 21,000 responses, 1,000 letters and more than 50 petitions handed over.

Susan Barker, councillor responsible for customers and culture, said: “Our future libraries strategy has changed drastically due to what people told us.

“I am delighted the consultation ignited such passion for keeping the service alive.

“We assured everyone their feedback would be taken into account, and it has - all our libraries now have a future.

“This is a new, exciting chapter for libraries in Essex.

“It will be a service fit for the 21st Century that is genuinely in the hands of communities and users, who can help mould it to what they want and need.

“I look forward to sharing the full detail with the people of Essex next week.”

Colin Sergeant, Essex county councillor for Holland-on-Sea, said: “The devil is in the detail. We want to see our staffed library remain staffed by paid employees.

“I don’t see why we can’t have volunteers supporting staff if it comes to it, but a volunteer group is no substitute for what we have.

“We need to wait until the full details are released.”

He added: “Considering our library is open 16 hours a week it is particularly well used by the community as a focal point.

“Citizens Advice Bureau is based in there and we put in the grant funding for that.”

Delyth Miles, Walton councillor and vice chairman of the Friends of Walton Library group, described the move as a “step in the right direction.”

She said: “As Walton is in category three there was an option to have it staffed by a volunteer group. As far as I am aware no such group has officially come forward.

“I wouldn’t encourage them to do so now.

“If we’re not going to have paid staff it would be putting people out of their jobs.”

“You won’t get the hours if you rely on volunteers - people might do a year or two years but then they could burn out or lose interest.

“It isn’t a sustainable way to run a library.”

Clacton MP Giles Watling said he had written to County Hall to oppose the proposal.

He said: “I am delighted the new strategy will see investment in our libraries and having met with local councillors during this campaign I know that such investment is needed.

“I am excited about the increasing role of community groups and partners in running these facilities and if you want to set up a community library, make sure you get in touch.”

County Hall will publish its final libraries strategy on Monday ahead of it going to cabinet for approval on July 23.