County hall bosses have submitted plans for a major redevelopment of Wickford Library – despite having plans to close more than half the libraries in Essex.

Planning documents outline how the existing library and community centre on Market Road will be demolished and moved to the Willows Shopping Centre, while a block of 65 flats will be built on the old site.

Essex County Council has been looking to close up to 60 per cent of libraries in the county, attracting 59,855 signatures across 56 petitions opposing the move.

The council says the redevelopment of Wickford is not part of that plan.

A spokesperson said: “Plans to move Wickford Library into the Willows Centre are separate from the draft future library services strategy that we have recently consulted on.

“Essex County Council agreed in October 2018 to sell the site of Wickford Library to developers in exchange for a replacement library in the town centre. It is an opportunity to create a modern fit-for-purpose library facility for the people of Wickford.

“Wickford was identified in the draft strategy as a Tier 1 library that we would want to continue to run and improve.

“No decision has been made on the library strategy, which is due to be considered by cabinet later this year.”

Wickford councillor for Basildon Council, Malcolm Buckley, said he was confident the library will continue to deliver the existing servies but he is concerned about the flats.

“The library won’t be closed, it is moving into the old HSBC building and work has been going on there to accommodate it,” he said.

“I have asked questions about whether all activities and resources will be accommodated in the new building and have been given absolute assurances that they will be.

“There was a perception that the new building is a bit smaller but there is a lot of wasted space in the existing site, so space will be used more efficiently. I am comfortable with the proposal.

“But I do have concerns about the flats and have expressed reservations on a number of grounds. The original plan was pretty poor but in fairness the developers have taken a lot of comments on board an made significant improvements but I think the ground floor should be used for commercial purposes.

“The current plan is for a flexible unit which could be turned into a flat if the developer feels there is not enough interest.

“The other aspect is parking. The area where the block is being proposed already has a public car park but some of that would be lost to the flats due to spaces being reserved.”

He added that 65 flats was more than he expected in the proposal but the important thing is whether they are good places to live in.

“If you have a big block in the town centre you need to provide the amenities and it is up to the developer to find solutions,” he said.

The plans will be discussed at a future planning meeting.