AN online consultation into library closures crashed – on the same day protestors descended on County Hall.

Campaigners accused Essex County Council of blocking residents’ views at what might have been a peak time to access the survey.

They said the glitch started on Saturday afternoon, the day of the protest against library closures, and lasted until Sunday evening.

Yesterday the online consultation was extended by 24 hours and the council apologised for the “technical issues”.

It comes days after the council was left red-faced over an image used in the Easy Read version of the consultation which appeared to depict a transgender person removing a wig.

Wivenhoe children’s book author Liz Miles tweeted the council was “gagging people at a prime, unrepeatable time” of the consultation, adding it was “the stuff of dictatorships”.

She said: “People were more aware of the consultation after the protest.

“It is disappointing and worrying those people weren’t able to have their say.

“What’s an additional level of worry is the message that came up that said ‘you are outside the beginning and end of the consultation’.

“A lot of people will have thought ‘Oh damn it’ and missed it and will not return.”

Lee Scordis, Colchester Labour councillor for Old Heath and the Hythe, contacted Sue Barker, county councillor overseeing the consultation, to ask if it could be extended and preferably at a weekend.

Mr Scordis said: “The timing was inconvenient. These things sadly do happen, websites do crash, but it does beg the question was someone monitoring that during the weekend?” Both the timing isn’t great, particularly as we had a march and also the weekend so people had time to fill in the consultation.

“It feels like we have lost the weekend. The timing doesn’t help with the consultation which I think it’s already flawed anyway.”

Katy Vargas, spokesperson for the Colchester branch of the Save Our Libraries Essex, said: “After such a successful demonstration which drew such huge attention to the campaign, it is of course extremely frustrating that the online consultation has been down at just the point when people are most likely to complete it.

“Unfortunately, it is just the latest in a catalogue of errors: from the questionable methodology and lack of inclusivity, to the use offensive and misleading imagery on the easy read version of the survey, the handling of the consultation has undermined residents’ trust from start to finish. It’s not too late for the council to put things right by scrapping the consultation and committing to protecting all our libraries and their staff. We intend to keep campaigning until they do.

“This is just the start of our campaign, it won’t end until we save all our libraries.”

Yesterday Labour East of England MP Alex Mayer criticised the proposed library closures during a speech in the European Parliament Chamber, calling the idea a “wanton act of cultural and educational vandalism”.

She believes lessons can be learned from the European-wide Public Libraries 2020 project which raises awareness of the value of public libraries as partners for social and economic development.

She continued: “Closing the library won’t just take books off shelves, it will rip the heart out of local communities.”

A council spokesman said: “Unfortunately due to technical issues out of our control, the webpage that hosts the online libraries consultation was unavailable on Sunday 10 February.

“We apologise for any inconvenience.

“We have extended the online consultation for 24 hours meaning it will now close on February 21.”

However, all paper forms must be posted to the council by the original consultation deadline of February 20 or they will not be considered.