Arbroath councillors were stunned last week when their attempts to safeguard the library from the clutches of Angus Council were foiled.
When the issue of Arbroath Library was called at the full council meeting on Thursday, Independent councillors Bob Spink and David Fairweather both proposed amendments to keep it in the Common Good Fund.
Councillor Spink’s amendment involved appealing to the Scottish Government on the grounds that according to a 2008 Improvement Study, any asset regarded and managed as Common Good for 50 years without successful legal challenge should be treated as such for legal purposes.
He said: “In two past meetings I have put forward amendments opposing vehemently such an action and both times ruled ‘incompetent’ by the Provost after taking legal advice from the head of law and admin.
“To counter this I consulted with the chief exec, the head of finance, and the head of law and admin at a private meeting to try to find a way forward. Arising from this meeting was a fresh amendment for Thursday’s meeting, previously read and approved by the head of law with an assurance she would advise it competent when presented to the meeting. In the event it was ruled ‘incompetent’ yet again by the Provost Helen Oswald as is her right.”
Councillor Fairweather proposed a similar amendment which was also ruled incompetent by Provost Helen Oswald.
Depute Provost Alex King was also upset by the decision. He said: “Ruling these amendments out of order showed the Provost had a clear agenda to force the matter of the transfer of Arbroath Library out of the Common Good to a closure, without a debate.
“She was unrepentant even when 19 out of the 27 councillors present asked that their dissent from the decision be recorded. What would have been a clear majority not to transfer the library had a vote been allowed.”
Councillor Donald Morrison examined the case law behind the decision. He said: “Now I am no lawyer but having read the response from Counsel I believe there remains no definitive answer.
“The Banff v Ruthin Castle Ltd., case may be classed a case law but the findings, like many rulings, are always open to challenge. Therefore, the only real decisive routes regarding the library would be to test it in court or agree the status quo.
He continued: “What intrigues me is that after the Banff v Ruthin Castle Ltd., ruling in 1944 which would have been monumental as it is deemed as case law, there seems to have been no investigation into whether the library or any other property held on the Arbroath Common Good should be in it.”
Councillor Ewan Smith added: “Every person I have spoken to about this has felt quite strongly about it, but we need to show we want it back in the Common Good Fund. We need to reassure the people of Arbroath that while it is very difficult to reverse the decision we cannot give up.”
There could be a solution according to Provost Oswald. She said: “There have been discussions on the future of Arbroath Library but I am not at liberty to give out details of those discussions yet.
“We’ve had meetings to find the way ahead and I think we can see a way out.”
As we went to press yesterday, the story took a surprising turn
Councillor Bob Spink intimated that after discussions between Provost Helen Oswald Provost, Councillor Iain Gaul, leader of the administration; Councillor Paul Valentine, Depute Leader; Councillor Spink and Councillor David Fairweather it was agreed that no action on the library will be taken until further investigations are completed.
He stated: “It is our fervent wish that this can be resolved quickly to the satisfaction of us all, and in time for the next scheduled full council meeting. I would like to thank all present at that meeting for their input and understanding and look forward at last to putting this most contentious issue to bed.”