Campaigners say a debate over the future of Lichfield Library was a “travesty of democracy”.
A meeting of Staffordshire County Council heard criticism from campaigners over proposals to switch the facility to St Mary’s in the Market Square, with the current home at The Friary redeveloped as residential accomodation.
A petition of more than 5,500 names calling for a public consultation over the plan forced the fresh debate.
But a spokesperson for the Lichfield and Burntwood branch of the Green Party, which organised the petition, accused the controlling Conservative group at the council of ignoring the strength of public feeling: “We are disgusted that Staffordshire County Council has chosen to totally disregard the wishes of over 5,500 of its residents and press ahead with its plans for Lichfield Library without any public consultation.
“We are even more dismayed that the public debate our petition was due turned out to be such a travesty of democracy.
“Rather than a balanced, rational debate on our call for a public consultation we instead witnessed an orchestrated series of attacks by senior Conservative councillors on petition organiser Robert Pass and his fellow campaigners. These attacks, at times shockingly vitriolic, were interspersed with statements from other Conservative councillors extolling the virtues of the council’s proposed plans for the library.
“Two separate interjections from councillors calling for the debate to stick to the matter of the petition text were completely ignored by the chairman.”
Staffordshire County Council says its plans will safeguard the future of two landmark buildings and ensure the future of library provision in the area.
But campaigners have hit back at claims the Save Lichfield Library protests did not paint the full picture.
“The campaign and the Lichfield and Burntwood Green Party were repeatedly accused of misleading everyone who had signed the petition. Councillor Ian Parry accused us of ‘cynical manipulation’ and Councillor Terry Finn even claimed to have overheard one campaigner telling members of the public that the Friary would be demolished. We utterly refute all such accusations.
“We have always been completely open about the nature and substance of our campaign. The text of our petition made our position crystal clear and we always took great pains to ensure that everyone we spoke to understood what they were putting their name to. We don’t believe we misled anyone and feel sure that all those who signed the petition will resent councillors like Ian Parry and Alan White implying that they didn’t understand what they were signing.
“Ahead of the debate, what we heard time and again from Lichfield residents was that they thought their councillors never listened to them. Sadly, what we saw last Thursday made it very clear indeed to us that the majority of them are interested in hearing nobody’s voices but their own.”
But Cllr Ben Adams, the Staffordshire County Council cabinet member who led the debate, rejected the criticism – and said members of the public could make up their own mind about the way the campaign opposing the plans had been handled.
“A recording of the debate is available online and people will be able to see for themselves that senior members from both parties expressed concern about the way the petition was conducted,” he said.
“The merits of the proposed move from the Friary to St Mary’s was given a thorough airing and the question of consultation was also addressed and it was agreed that the petition be received, alongside other information and be included in the papers upon which a final decision will be based.”
A recording of the debate can be viewed online starting at 2hrs 4mins.