DORSET County Council’s plans to close 20 libraries would not stand up to a legal challenge.

That’s the view of the man spearheading a challenge to proposals that could lead to the closure of more than half of the libraries operated by the Dorset Library Service.

Tim Lee, acting chairman of the Association of Dorset Libraries (AdLib), said proposals to transfer library buildings to communities would not meet the requirements of the Libraries and Museums Act 1964.

“I’m pretty sure they are concerned that if they close the 20 libraries, or even a lesser number, there will be a legal challenge.”

A recent council meeting voted for AdLib’s proposals to be given serious consideration by a policy development panel of councillors and senior officers with the Dorset Library Service.

AdLib’s proposals include halving the book budget to £400,000 for four years, reducing opening hours and cutting staff costs at library service HQ by 10 per cent.

DCC is consulting on two “offers” for the future of the service, including transferring libraries to be funded by communities through their town or parish councils, in a bid to save £800,000 a year.

Mr Lee said government proposals to force third tier authorities to hold a referendum on precept rises over 2.5 per cent would make that offer unfeasible.

And he dismissed the council’s second offer for communities to run their libraries with off-the-shelf computer packages not connected to the Dorset Library Service.

But Cllr Hilary Cox, council cabinet member for community services, said: “The 1964 act is open to interpretation; we have to provide a suitable service that is accessible to as many people as possible.

“These 20 libraries only issue 16 per cent of all books that we issue every year.

“They are the smaller libraries, some are very close to neighbouring libraries and open a few hours every week. We will be looking at encouraging communities to take them over and extend their use, which we believe is a better use of our reduced resources, while concentrating our efforts on improving the main libraries. Unfortunately library usage has reduced dramatically.”