Page last updated at 13:41 GMT, Tuesday, 9 June 2009 14:41 UK

Library closure inquiry under way

John and Jean Brown, from Eastham
Protesters gathered at the venue ahead of the inquiry

An inquiry into controversial plans to close 11 public libraries in Wirral is under way.

Wirral Council announced the closures as part of a review of leisure facilities. It was met by huge protests from the public and local MPs.

A high-profile campaign prompted then culture secretary Andy Burnham to intervene less than 24 hours before the first library was due to shut.

The hearing will decide if the council has a duty to retain the libraries.

The hearing, expected to last two days, will take place at the Floral Pavilion.

Stephen Hesford, MP for Wirral West, is against the closures

Speaking ahead of the proceedings, campaigner Catherine Cooper - who was due to give evidence - said: "We've not been listened to.

"We weren't given enough of a chance to get facts and figures together and we feel like we've been railroaded. And what is being given back as provision is not got enough.

Under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 councils are required to provide a "comprehensive and efficient" library service.

Should Wirral Council be found not to be complying with its statutory duties then the inquiry will recommend steps to rectify the situation.

Last month policy consultant Sue Charteris, who was appointed to lead the review, inspected the libraries ahead of presenting her recommendations to the inquiry.

The plans have been opposed by hundreds of local people, as well Ben Chapman, Labour MP for Wirral South, who presented a petition from campaigners to the House of Commons.

His Labour colleague Stephen Hesford, MP for Wirral West, lodged an official complaint with the Local Government Ombudsman claiming the consultation process was "flawed".

Speaking ahead of the inquiry, he told the BBC: "This is all about penny pinching and vandalism of cultural services."

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