AWARD-winning journalist Peter Hitchens said county council plans to abolish funding for almost half of the county’s libraries would see hard-up families barred from the benefits of reading.

The author and Mail on Sunday columnist said he was particularly opposed to the move to end funding for his local library in Headington which he said housed Oxford’s nicest public reading room.

The library which is housed inside the 19th century Grade II listed Bury Knowle House features a popular reference library inside a glass conservatory overlooking Bury Knowle Park.

Mr Hitchens is the latest writer to speak out against the plans to remove funding for 20 of the county’s 43 libraries.

Children’s author Philip Pullman and Inspector Morse creator Colin Dexter labelled the plans shameful last week.

Mr Hitchens, 59, who used Headington Library to help research his first book: The Abolition of Britain, said: “If libraries close, people who can’t afford to buy books are going to be deprived of something irreplaceable.

“In these times we need to encourage creativity, reading and imagination more than ever.

“If people don’t read then their imaginations shrivel. A library is a gymnasium for the imagination.”

The council hopes the library cuts will help save £2m over four years. It is offering an option for local groups to come forward and run libraries voluntarily with the council providing a one-off £200,000 grant to set schemes up. However, Mr Hitchens, who this year scooped the Orwell prize for foreign correspondence, said: “There’s a danger in having amateurs do this and if people aren’t employed to do it they have no obligation to turn-up.

“Rotas would fail and then the public doesn’t have the back-up of a professional service.

“There must be 30 or 40 other ways the council could make reductions without causing as much pain.”

Earlier this month 150 protesters braved the snow to oppose the plan to cut funding for Headington Library.

Mr Hitchens, who has used the library for more than 20 years said: “It has the nicest reading room in Oxford not in one of the university colleges. It is a place created for reading and to associate reading with pleasure.

“One of the things that makes Oxford special is that there are places like this library where you can have tranquillity. If it went it would be an irretrievable loss.”

Council spokesman Marcus Mabberley said: “This council, like all others, is faced with having to make difficult financial decisions. These decisions will have to be largely based on what resources are available, rather than other areas, such as the aesthetics of a particular building.

“If a decision was taken to cease funding Headington Library the council would work with the community to explore alternative ways of providing services.”