PLANS which could see 15 county libraries close have been approved by Somerset County Council.

The council's cabinet yesterday agreed an extra £22,000 a year to help support communities to run library buildings, and a commitment to retain 19 libraries under the authority's control.

However, the extra cash will only be used to support community groups the council hopes will come forward to keep 15 under-threat libraries open.

Communities have been invited to submit expressions of interest by November 15 to set up Community Library Partnerships (CLPs).

An additional £154,000 over seven years was approved yesterday to help support CLPs and communities who step forward to run library buildings themselves.

If these can’t be established, library buildings will close and libraries services will be provided in other ways (such as mobile or outreach) from as early as January next year.

Councillor David Hall, lead Cabinet Member for Libraries, said: “It’s been 40 years since the council last made any significant changes its library network and it’s time we modernise our service, ensuring its sustainability for the future.

"Today’s decision strikes the right balance in delivering a strong, thriving and modernised library service across Somerset, while still living within our means.”

Cllr Hall started the meeting by setting out the libraries service redesign vision, emphasising the need to modernise the service while putting it on a sustainable financial footing.

He then asked councillors to consider the need for libraries services within communities, the council’s legal requirements, the views of the public expressed through the consultation and the funding available.

He concluded by paying tribute to everyone who responded to the consultation, Friends of Somerset Libraries and the many library friend groups, and the frontline libraries staff.

Before making their decision, cabinet heard a presentation setting out the results from the libraries consultation which ran earlier this year, community needs and access to libraries services analysis as well as equalities impact assessments.

They also heard and responded to many questions and statements from members and from the Chair of Friends of Somerset Libraries (FoSL), Watchet Library Friends and Unite.

Cabinet unanimously approved the Somerset’s Libraries Service redesign programme, which will now be implemented - with new services in place from as early as January next year.

It was also agreed to investigate an alternative location for Shepton Mallet’s library, reduce costs in Cheddar, Martock, Langport and Ilminster libraries (through implementing new technology, sharing space with partners and generating income), a management restructure and develop an approach for donations and philanthropic giving.

The libraries which could face closure if a community group does not come forward are: Bishops Lydeard, Bruton, Castle Cary, Highbridge, Milborne Port, Nether Stowey, North Petherton, Porlock (with the aim to continue its existing CLP in its present format), Priorswood (Taunton), Somerton, Street, South Petherton, Sunningdale (Yeovil), Watchet and Wiveliscombe.