Three at risk Copeland libraries should become community hubs, county councillors agreed.

Hensingham, Mirehouse and Kells libraries are under threat due to a decline in members.

Book borrowing from Hensingham library fell from 5,745 in 2010/11 to 1,548 in 2016/2017. In Mirehouse it fell from 9,686 to 2,735 in the same time period and in Kells from 6,588 books down to 1,737.

At a meeting of Copeland's local committee yesterday, councillors said they would look at the libraries being used as community hubs, run by volunteers offering different services, such as Age UK.

The councillors' decision will now be sent to the county council's corporate director for agreement.

Coun Keith Hitchen, committee chairman, said: "The important thing we're saying is the decision as to what should be done in those buildings is determined by the community.

"Our officers will help those communities look at the different uses that they might want to put them to.

"It's an opportunity to do things that we've done in other areas - Gosforth being a prime example - that's run by volunteers but offers all other different services as well.

"We're not closing libraries - we're opening up communities."

If library services on the three Whitehaven estates end, people would have to use the main library in the town centre and outreach services could be provided for the affected communities.

Feedback from a public consultation showed there has been "significant interest in developing the sites" in other ways such as nursery provision, a community cafe and assistance and advice centres.

Speaking at the local committee meeting, Coun Emma Williamson said: "It's important not to leave library users vulnerable."

While Coun Graham Roberts said: "A lot of older people are excluded from modern day society. Unless you are online you feel alienated."

A report to the meeting stated that currently each library is open for six or nine hours per week with continued evidence of usage level declining year on year.

It said: "Most respondents confirmed they did not solely use the branch facilities or that they only used the facility for attending a group event and could benefit from a service being offered from the main Whitehaven library and promoting increased access via outreach across the town."

The report says if the closure plans are agreed, the individual properties could be made available for sale or lease.