LEADING councillors have approved plans to close two of the borough's libraries.
The proposals to shut the Harrow Green branch in Leytonstone and South Chingford in Hall Lane were rubber stamped by the council's cabinet at a meeting tonight.
Campaigners pleaded with the authority to consider alternatives but the Labour leadership claimed it was the only way to save money following cuts in its funding from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat government.
The decision came despite a cross-party committee which concluded the proposals were based on flawed information and petitions signed by more than 7,000 residents.
Protester Vi Gostling, who has been a Labour member for 62 years, said she was “in despair” at her party colleagues' decision.
The 94-year-old said afterwards: “They are losing an opportunity in a particularly valuable area to have this centre of influence. I don't understand why they would just disregard this building.”
Fellow campaigner 29-year-old Hayley Bowden, of Orange Grove, Leytonstone, was in tears.
Ms Bowden has been visiting the library her entire life and regularly takes her eight-year-old daughter Amber. She is disabled and fears her restricted mobility means she will not be able to visit other branches instead.
She said: “I'm really upset. My daughter will be devastated as she knows I won't be able to take her anymore.”
Defending the proposals, cabinet member for leisure and culture Cllr Geraldine Reardon said: “This is indeed a very serious situation and I'll start with the most serious fact of all – the council has to save more than £65million over the next four years at the same time as demand for services such as social care is on the increase.
“The council values libraries highly...but we can no longer afford the major overspend that we've had for several years.”
However she also admitted for the first time that there would be a negative impact by the shake-up, which includes new opening hours for the remaining branches.
She said: “There will be some adverse impact arising from this [new] library model” but added that the council aimed to deliver a better service.
Cabinet member for children's services Cllr Marie Pye appeared to suggest that campaigners in Leytonstone could come forward with proposals “at this late stage” to copy the idea in Chingford of having a volunteer-run community library.
But furious protesters said afterwards that Labour ward Cllr Nicholas Russell had tried to submit just such a plan last week only to be told he was too late.
Lib Dem ward Cllr Liz Phillips also accused the authority of failing to consider alternatives. She said: “They could have saved £134,000 by not opening libraries on Sundays and Mondays. Instead they're closing Harrow Green altogether which will save them £135,000.”
A petition against the closure of Harrow Green will be discussed by the full council next week. The decision could technically be referred back to cabinet if councillors agree.