A PROTEST march against controversial proposals to shut a popular nursery turned into a victory rally yesterday after the plans were withdrawn.

Deputy leader of Bolton Council, Cllr Linda Thomas, announced plans to close Harvey Nursery had been scrapped just hours before the planned demonstration by parents and campaigners at the town hall, as councillors were attending a full council meeting.

Parents and trade union members instead gathered outside the town hall to celebrate the news.

Amy Norris, who has two children at the nursery, said: “We are over the moon. It is such a relief for parents. It was such a horrible feeling when they announced it could close and we were not going to take no for an answer. It is amazing.”

Town hall chiefs have said they will continue to run the nursery — but will ‘increase income generated from fees’ and lunches.

They say they have been able to save the nursery — the council’s only directly run early years centre — because of the savings the council has made through increased rates of recycling.

Harvey Nursery in Great Lever was earmarked for closure at the end of the academic year after the council said it can no longer afford to subsidise it — with the nursery being in the red by almost £68,000.

The surprise announcement was made before the 30-day consultation had ended.

Cllr Thomas said: “There has been a real strength of feeling around Harvey Nursery and we have listened carefully to the views expressed during consultation.

“We said this would be a consultation, where nothing was off the table, and unless anything else significant comes up before the end of consultation on Friday, we believe we have now identified a solution.

“We are taking the unusual step of announcing what we think our final decision will be before the formal end of consultation to give assurance to the children and families at Harvey.

“This has been a very difficult situation.

“We are living through unprecedented austerity cuts. The proposal to close the nursery was developed as a result of competing budgets within the People Services Department.

“Budgets have shrunk to such a low level that there are very few services remaining that are not statutory and we must continue to protect the services that are vitally important to our most vulnerable children and families.

“This means that the choices facing the council are very limited.

“The council has decided to continue to operate the nursery. There will be a staged move to increasing income generated from fees and from consumables in order to reduce the current level of subsidy which the council provides.

“The council has been able to take this decision as a result of savings made from increased rates of recycling in Bolton.”

Bernadette Gallagher, Unison branch secretary, said: “This is a fantastic victory for all those parents, staff and campaigners who have worked tirelessly since the announcement was made.”

Tom Hanley, from Bolton Trades Union Congress, said: “This is a tremendous victory for parents and trade unions, we are pleased. The campaign has been very much parent-led with unions supporting them. But we cannot quite understand why the fee increases.”

Cllr Nick Peel, cabinet member for environmental services, said: “The council has listened to parents and users of the centre, and this is what consultation is about. The plans have been rethought as they were for school crossing patrols.

“We have saved £3.7 million in waste disposal costs due to recycling by people in Bolton.

“Money that goes into landfill is wasted money and this shows a clear link between recycling and money saved which can be used better.”