Shropshire Star

Top lawyer drafted in to help Church Stretton library fight

One of Britain's top QCs has been drafted in to help keep a town's library where it is.


Church Stretton residents have come together and appointed a top legal team to take on their case, as they prepare to launch action against Shropshire Council over what they say were "undemocratic" decisions on the future of the library in the town centre.

In March Councillor Steve Charmley, Shropshire Council's cabinet member for culture and commissioning, rubber-stamped the closure of the building in Church Street to move the service out of the centre to Church Stretton school in Shrewsbury Road, despite widespread public opposition.

Felicity Thomas, speaking for the campaign group said: "The library support group is delighted that it has secured the services of one of one of the most experienced solicitors in the country working on libraries, schools and hospitals. He is Michael Imperato of Watkins and Gunn.

"We have also been fortunate to secure the services of one of Britain's top QC's working in public law and challenging the decisions of public bodies when they embark on ill-thought out changes in service provision. He is Nick Bowen QC of Doughty Chambers in London."

She said the legal team would not cost the community as much as it might sound, however.

"We qualify for legal aid and have been accepted for that," she said.

"But we also have had pledges of financial support from a lot of people in the community.

"We have asked our legal team to have capped costings, so we are being very careful with everyone's money.

"At every point we will also ask for a mandate from those supporting us to carry on as we go forward."

She said a detailed case had now been drafted against the council's decision.

The 140 members of the Church Stretton Library Support Group voted to take legal action at the end of April. The vote followed the failure of a formal request from Shropshire councillors Heather Kidd, Roger Evans and Charlotte Barnes to "call in" the Councillor Charmley's decision, which was made behind closed doors, for scrutiny.

Mrs Thomas added: "This very much is our last resort.

"We do not want to pursue Shropshire Council in the courts but we have exhausted every other opportunity for taking part in a meaningful democratic process that takes local residents and library users seriously and recognises that they are equal partners in decision making.

"The whole process to date has been a top-down imposition of a deeply flawed idea - and the rejection of an offer by our group to work with the council, keep the library where it is and deliver a community library run by the community."

A notice of action and final plea to overturn the decision was served to Shropshire Council on Thursday.

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.