Plans to slash library service opening hours have been approved by Hertfordshire County Council.

At a cabinet meeting yesterday, councillors agreed a reduction in opening hours, from 2,236 per week, to 1,575, in order to save £1.4million.

The scheme has been widely criticised by the Liberal Democrat opposition, suggesting the “avoidable” cuts would affect young people the most.

Green Party County Councillor Ian Brandon called for the cuts to be reversed, especially in towns like Watford, where the cuts include no library service in Watford after 7pm.

He said: “In Central and North Watford especially, cutting the night time hours, when we need to change the night time economy away from an alcohol economy to something more mixed, is not going to help that end.”

“With all the cuts, public facilities are closing left right and centre which means facilities that the public have relied on, are now opening and available at a lower level than we have seen in a very long time. The shock all these cuts are having will leave residents struggling to cope.”

Opposition leader Chris White argued there were other ways to make savings in the current structure, without reducing opening hours.

He suggested: “Modernisation, much greater use of new technology and deeper cuts in the numbers of administrators and managers.

“There are other simple ideas which the council should have been exploring, such as sharing of services with parish and town councils, especially in rural areas, and at new forms of funding such as sponsorship.

“Hertfordshire has not attempted to learn from the example of other authorities and we cannot be certain that more significant cuts are not on their way - they still plan to reduce council staff by another 350 by 2015. It would be astonishing if this did not have an impact on front-line library services.”

The modernisation of Hertfordshire libraries include the use of self-service machines which enable customers to serve themselves and leave staff to other duties.

The new hours vary from branch to branch, due to local differences like market days, half-day closing and bus timetables, as well as the views of the 7,000 respondents to a public consultation.

Keith Emsall, executive member for community safety and culture said: “While many councils are planning to close branches completely, we consider that it is very important for our residents to be able to access a library.

“No Hertfordshire branch library will shut down, and we have staggered the new timetable so that when the local library isn't open, a nearby branch will be.”