THE Government is being urged to scrap proposed changes to licensing laws which campaigners say could mark the end for troubled village halls.

A Bill going through the House of Lords proposes that village halls, which are currently exempt from fees for running events, should start paying them.

It also suggests a reduction in the number of events allowed per licence.

If the Bill is passed, it will add to the financial burden of village halls, which already have less income from the lottery-funded Community Fund because of falling ticket sales.

As reported in The Northern Echo on Saturday, from March, many halls - including 72 in County Durham - will also have their adult education funding withdrawn, leading to courses in the heart of communities such as Edmundbuyers, Dipton, Ebchester and Waldridge Fell, in County Durham, being closed.

Now, Action with Communities in Rural England (Acre) and the National Village Halls Forum, have written to Minister Kim Howells urging him to reconsider the Government's stance on licensing regulations.

Deborah Clarke, of Acre, said: "The regulations would have a devastating impact on fundraising for this vital facility. Introducing more controls could kill the very thing they're meant to be supporting."

Durham county councillor John Shuttleworth, who oversees 12 village halls in Weardale, said: "If they impose any more bureaucracy on these halls, it will be the end of the road."

Kevin Hickford, chairman of Hunstanworth Village Hall Association, in Weardale, said: "The core costs of running village halls are escalating. Insurance is going up in leaps and bounds, and they are getting desperate.

"It's a big responsibility on the volunteers that run them and certain officials don't seem to realise their benefit and value to the community."