Rhydyfelin campaigners show it pays to fight cuts
In a stunning victory campaigners have forced Rhondda Cynon Taff council to re-open Rhydyfelin library. After occupying the library and chaining themselves to the bookshelves the campaign took the council to court over the procedure for closing the library.
The combined pressure of a vibrant campaign by the community with the threat of a judicial review proved too much for the council. The promise by campaigners to stand in the next council elections against the Labour councillors undoubtedly also played a part in forcing the climb-down.
This is a library that is truly loved, a bright sunny building used by every section of the community from toddlers to pensioners, from school students doing their homework to yoga classes. From the moment the library was threatened all of these people rallied round to save it. They stood in large numbers in the pouring rain collecting signatures in the high street. They drove around the streets with a megaphone and car-top sandwich board. They held meetings, they talked to the press – they even made a film. Their enthusiastic, determined campaign has taken their battle all the way to victory.
RCT Labour council’s cuts programme is getting very frayed around the edges as independent campaigns have forced a series of climb-downs. The reprieve for Rhydyfelin library is the biggest blow to the council so far. Parents have also won a High Court case to prevent the abolition of full-time nursery education for three year olds.
The sheer scale of the £56 million cuts in RCT has provoked a big movement of individual campaigns against the cuts. The Rhydyfelin and nursery victories show it pays to fight the cuts and will embolden other campaigns in the borough.
Rhondda Cynon Taff council had announced the closure of Rhydyfelin library at the last minute as it withdrew a proposal to close Pontyclun library. This provoked a huge campaign by a shocked community and made it subject to a judicial review by the campaign. The campaign was fresh, energetic and positive and carried the whole community behind it.
On the day the library was scheduled for closure, campaigners flooded down to the library for a party with food, poetry and a film screening and when the 1:00pm closure time arrived, they simply didn’t go home. Four stalwarts chained themselves to the bookshelves and refused to move. One of the campaigners made a speech declaring that she was putting herself forward as an anti-cuts candidate at the next Council elections.
Now is an opportunity to unite the anti cuts movement in RCT and to take stock of the lessons of the victories. It is still possible to stop the current round of cuts, but also to prepare to resist the next round which threatens a whole host of community facilities.
Clearly it was the right thing to do for the Rhydyfelin library campaign and the Parents Against Education Cuts to take the council to court. The court victories have made it extremely difficult for the council to come back with the same cutbacks again. But the courts off a very limited protection against the cuts. The court judgements were won over procedural issues, not the cuts themselves, and if the council is more careful in its procedures in the future the legal avenue will be more difficult for anti-cuts campaigns to use.