COUNCILLORS in Stratton have become the first in Swindon to express a firm interest in taking over the library in their parish.

Stratton St Margaret Parish Council has been holding talks with Swindon Borough Council and looks set to be a part of the first wave of community libraries with the transfer of Upper Stratton Library in Beechcroft Road.

Meetings have taken place between the parish council, Swindon Borough Council and the Friends of Upper Stratton Library to look at different models of collaborative working.

Parish council chairman Joe Tray said: “Library services are a great community hub for many sectors of the community, ranging from parent and toddler groups through to social exclusion with the elderly.

“To lose this service in Upper Stratton would be a great loss and the parish council, as a public service provider, is looking at how it can continue these services for the benefit of local residents.”

Tracy Predeth, clerk to the parish council, said: “By looking at different models of working we hope to put in a good business case to take over these services and also to enrich the service users’ visit to the library by incorporating a satellite parish council information point and coffee shop.”

The parish council will meet on Tuesday, December 6, where they are expected to agree in principle to take on the service when the borough council withdraws funding next year.

Coun Mary Martin, the borough council cabinet member responsible for libraries, said: “The council’s libraries project team have had very productive discussions with Stratton St Margaret Parish Council and we are really pleased they have indicated their willingness to be part of the first wave of community libraries in Swindon.”

While it will come as some relief that the hopes of community-led libraries look likely to become a reality in Stratton, the future for the remaining nine branch libraries that fall outside the core strategy is less clear.

When the final library proposals were released last week, Coun Mary Martin said: “Discussions are already well underway to secure community-led library provision at Wroughton, Covingham and Upper Stratton and so I am asking cabinet colleagues to approve transitional funding for these at this stage.”

But while councillors in Stratton appear willing to embrace the change to library provision, the other two councils named appear less certain of future arrangements.

Covingham Parish Council have confirmed that discussions are ongoing with Swindon Borough Council but they have described them as being in their “early stages.”

Parish chairman Brian Osbourn said: “We haven’t got anything finalised yet. Our ward councillors have asked us if we will step in but we have to look carefully at what it will involve.

“Parish councils are going to have to pay out a lot more for the extra services next year and it all adds to the precept.

“We would love to save the library, of course we would, but we also have to think of our residents and how much they can pay.

“We can’t just keep putting the precept up and up – library or no library.”

In Wroughton, a working party has been established to engage with the borough council in an effort to secure a solution.

However the issue is being complicated by the fact that the building in which the library currently stands is likely to require a significant amount of upkeep in the near future.

Jodie Smart, clerk to Wroughton Parish Council, said: “We are also in discussions with Swindon Borough Council.

“The parish council objects to any libraries being closed but we reluctantly accept that given the circumstances, we may have to step in in some way.

“There are also some discussions taking place around the state of the building when, and if, we take it over.

“Our working party is meeting next week to discuss the issue as we have to start putting together a bid for January.”

The common thread that ties Stratton, Covingham and Wroughton together is that they fall within an existing parish council – meaning the borough has an easily identifiable partner with whom to hold discussions.

In other areas – Penhill, Pinehurst, Rodbourne Cheney and Old Town for example – there is no such established body and therefore the burden falls to ‘the community’ in a far less neatly defined way.

Even where less formal community groups exist in those areas, it is unlikely that they would be able to meet some of the more stringent conditions laid down by the council.

Some seven of the 10 branch libraries set to lose funding next year fall within the currently unparished area and there are fears that those libraries could be left at the mercy of a postcode lottery.

When the new parish councils are established as shadow authorities in the next month, identifying an affordable and viable solution for the libraries within their parish will be just one of many responsibilities they take on.

With only eight weeks between now and the deadline for expressions of interest, the window of opportunity for those discussions will be limited.