PROPOSALS to shut two Southend libraries and hand three over to volunteers have moved a step closer, despite opposition from three-quarters of residents.

Just one in five people backed plans to close Thorpedene and Friars libraries, in Shoebury, in favour of a new library inDelaware Road.

They also opposed plans to cut paid staff from Westcliff, Southchurch and either Leigh or Kent Elms libraries.

Despite the results of a public consultation, a cross-party group of councillors has recommended Southend Council push forward the controversial plan, designed to save £378,000 over three years.

Derek Jarvis, councillor responsible for culture, who chaired the cross-party group, said: “The cultural advisory working party’s recommendations have reflected not only the two public consultation exercises, but also stakeholder meetings, letters and petitions, alongside considerable evidence and information about library services and good practice to determine a strategy for the next 15 years and the requirement to deal with the existing budget pressures.”

Senior councillors are expected to approve the plans, which also include a new “virtual library” providing online access 24-hours a day and changes to the mobile and home library service, next Tuesday.

Of the 275 people who backed “community” libraries, in which volunteers would support councilpaid managers, 121 offered to volunteer and another 145 said they might.

The Leigh Society, Leigh Town Council and Westborough Community Association have all ruled themselves out of running libraries, but the cross-party group believes there is enough support for the idea to work.

Calls have been made for the council to spend £50,000 installing wireless internet across all branches and £40,000 to support volunteers.

David Webb, chairman of Westborough Community Association, said: “The council is ignoring responses from the consultation and going for the original option to save money rather than reflect views of the residents.”

Claire Wormald, secretary of Southend Unison’s local government branch, which collected 3,000 signatures calling for libraries to be kept fully-staffed, added: “It would be a disaster for the community to lose the libraries there at the moment.”