Closure-threatened bowls clubs were promised £350k

GRASS CUTTING DISPUTE: General view of the Riverside Gardens Bowling Greens home of Chester le Street Bowling Club. Picture: DAVID WOOD (8082265)

GRASS CUTTING DISPUTE: General view of the Riverside Gardens Bowling Greens home of Chester le Street Bowling Club. Picture: DAVID WOOD (8082277)

First published in News

BOWLS clubs facing an uncertain future under council cutbacks were promised nearly £350,000-worth of investment just two years ago, The Northern Echo can reveal.

As reported exclusively last week, Durham County Council has written to bowls club bosses saying it is unable to sustain its current financial support for the 30 public facilities across the county and asked them to take over running their own facilities “as an alternative to closure”.

Now it has emerged that in 2012 the Labour authority pledged almost £350,000 to revamp nine pavilions – at Witton Gilbert, Kelloe, Brandon, Bishop Auckland, Glenholme, Peases West, Ouston, Pelton Fell and South Moor.

The work was due to be completed earlier this year, but it seems none of it has been carried out.

Liberal Democrat Mark Wilkes accused the authority of breaking its promises and a systematic, ideological dismantling of leisure services in County Durham.

“It’s an absolute disgrace that after promising to spend up to £350,000 on these facilities Durham’s Labour-run council hasn’t spent a penny on the improvements it budgeted for in 2012.

“They should be utterly ashamed of themselves as to how they’re treating elderly residents and rural communities,” he said.

Cllr Wilkes said the £5,000 one-off payment offered clubs to help them run their facilities was a joke and called on the council to honour its £350,000 commitment.

Ian Hopper, secretary of Brandon Bowls Club, said its pavilion was out of action due to dry rot and the repair estimate had quadrupled to £80,000 over the last four years.

But he added: “We can appreciate that the county council have to make difficult decisions and unfortunately this year it is bowls.”

The council faces funding cuts of £224m between 2011 and 2017 and Labour leader Simon Henig has said all services must be reviewed.

Leisure chiefs hope the bowls clubs review will save £146,605.

Terry Collins, the council’s corporate director for neighbourhood services, said: “Since this money was allocated we have had to undertake a wider review of the services that we can continue to provide as a result of significant budget reductions.”

The council is consulting with clubs and hopes to reach “in principle” decisions by the end of August, ahead of getting new arrangements in place by next spring.

Mr Collins added: “To make best use of the reduced finances available it’s essential we understand the full picture and by consulting with the clubs and asking them to consider taking over their running we will have a far better understanding of what is possible.

“No decisions will be taken until this process is complete.”

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