ESSEX County Council has revealed its three-month consultation into the future of its libraries has cost £70,000 so far.

The controversial proposals to close a third of its 74 libraries ended on Thursday following weeks of protests.

As the consultation drew to a close, the cost of the consultation was alleged to have been in the region of £400,000.

However, the council said the figure was “completely wrong” and it was a fraction of the suggested amount, at £70,092.

It added this was not the final cost but it was unlikely to escalate significantly.

A spokesman for the county council said: “Direct consultation costs are the print, mail out and analysis costs.”

Some of these costs included printing of draft documents and the survey analysis and reporting, envelopes, easy read translation and postage.

The spokesman added the £400,000 figure quoted appeared to come from alleged staff costs but these were not applicable in the consultation process.

The council’s plan would save it about £2 million a year.

The authority has suggested many libraries could be run by community groups.

Lee Scordis, Labour borough councillor for Colchester, who opposes library closures, said even £70,000 was a lot of money.

He said: “That could have been spent on upgrading libraries.”

Overall, 40 expressions of interest were received from groups offering to take over the running of some of the libraries.

More than 30,000 people signed petitions opposing the proposals and the council received 19,230 consultation responses. Susan Barker, county councillor responsible for customer and corporate services, said: “We have been encouraged by the overwhelming response to the consultation.

“It has sparked a great deal of interest and debate and I’m really pleased with some of the ideas coming through.

“Concerns have been raised too and these will all be considered before a final strategy is drawn up later this year.

“I am encouraged by the number of community groups which have come forward who are interested in running community managed library services.

“Even though the consultation has now closed, expressions of interest can still be submitted up until June.”

It is understood the council’s cabinet will have the final say on the proposals later this year.