Byline: Liam Murphy
AT LEAST a dozen libraries, three leisure centres, two museums and a theatre are to be shut under radical cost-cutting plans revealed by Wirral Council.
Communities across the borough have reacted with shock at the disclosure that the council is planning a massive cull of some of its best loved buildings.
But last night Cllr Steve Foulkes, leader of Wirral Council, said "doing nothing was never an option".
He said: "If we leave things as they are, we will be left with crumbling buildings, mounting repair costs and escalating levels of council tax."
Condemning the closure scheme, Tory opposition leader Jeff Green, said: "What is the point of having a council if it's not going to provide the services people want - they tax them through the nose and give nothing back."
The report outlining the plans will be considered by the cabinet tomorrow, and is still subject to consultation, but should lead to pounds 4m savings a year.
The council insists the massive review of all its buildings was necessary, and said the plan also includes an investment of pounds 20m over four years to develop a network of "state-of-the-art multipurpose complexes", some newly built.
It is also possible these could be "colocated" with other public services such as the police, fire and health service, or even private sector organisations.
The council currently faces a pounds 10m backlog of repairs to its buildings - stock which was largely inherited in 1974 from five district councils which previously governed Wirral, each of which brought their own property portfolio. Even today many of Wirral Council's assets remain largely unchanged from these.
The authority also faces rising energy costs and a shifting in the centres of population across the borough, as well as dealing with a massive budget deficit, predicted to be pounds 16.6m within a year and pounds 12.7m in two years.
In a long-awaited report - which even had a special cabinet meeting arranged to discuss it last month and was then cancelled at the last minute - the authority recommends pushing ahead with the wholesale closures of council buildings.
As a result libraries across the borough are to be closed, including the controversial decision to axe the Birkenhead Central Library which would be replaced with a modern facility at the Europa Pools site.
Also facing closure are the leisure centres at Woodchurch, Guinea Gap and Grange Road West, as well as Pacific Road Theatre and the transport museum there, along with Wirral Museum at Birkenhead Town Hall, which could also see the registrars moved and the building "disposed of ".
Guinea Gap baths, in Seacombe, will close and could become part of a major redevelopment scheme for the area capitalising on the views across the Mersey.
In their place, the authority plans to develop 12 "multipurpose complexes in key community locations across Wirral" to provide a range of services.
These plans include five major offices at Bebington Civic Centre, Birkenhead (probably centred around Europa Pools and incorporating a new central reference library), Liscard, Moreton, and West Kirby (in a modernised Concourse).
THERE will be seven smaller centres at Eastham, Greasby, Heswall, Leasowe, Rock Ferry, St James and Woodchurch.
In his report, Mr Maddox said: "Wirral will have one brand new, state-of- the-art, central reference library, probably located at the Europa Pools site.
"In addition, it is envisaged that there will be 11 area libraries at the other multipurpose complexes."
Many other facilities could be transferred into the hands of local community groups which would operate them - effectively absolving the authority of financial responsibility for them. These include 19 community and recreation centres across the borough, plus Leasowe …