A PETITION opposing cuts to bowling greens will be presented at the town hall this week. Local Democracy Reporter JOSEPH TIMAN speaks to the people behind it.

CUTS could mean "the end of bowling in Bolton” according to pensioners fighting to save bowling greens across the borough.

They have collected 2,000 signatures for a petition against the cuts, asking the council to be aware of their "anger and disappointment" over the "low-priority status"of the bowling green community.

It sets out why they are opposed to the cuts and explains why bowling greens are so important to the people who use them.

A total of 25 bowling greens could be affected which, after a council climb down earlier this year, will now be phased.

The savings target was slashed in half following a budget consultation, leaving it at £67,000 for the next two years.

The council plans to find the savings by handing ownership of the bowling greens over to their users.

But representatives from the community say this means some greens will close and membership fees could more than triple.

Moss Bank Bowling Club chairman Chris Barnes said that many bowling greens in Bolton are already in a worse condition because of cuts.

He said: “They are spending less and less money now at the greens. Some are in such a terrible state, we can hardly bowl on them. Sometimes we turn up and it’s not been cut for three or four days.

“It’s closures we are fearful of because it means that’s the end of bowling in Bolton.”

The Bolton News:

Clive Fenn, who is the secretary of Bolton Parks Veterans Amateur Bowling Association, will hand in the petition at a council meeting tomorrow night.

Together with his colleagues, he will have an opportunity to address all councillors at the meeting to make their case.

He told The Bolton News that bowling greens are falling into disrepair and three are already under threat of closure.

He said: “We can’t afford for them to cut the cost of maintenance any further. The sad implication is, because they have reduced the budgets, this could result in the closure of some greens.”

Mr Fenn conceded that some of the closures would be caused by the fact that some are underused.

The local authority conducted a survey several years ago that found certain bowling greens were used by fewer than 20 people.

However, throughout the borough there are around 1,000 people who use bowling greens.

The Bolton News:

Some use private bowling greens which charge a membership fee for that particular facility.

Others pay for a “park permit” costing £25 which gives them access to all Bolton Parks bowling greens which are maintained by the council.

This fee goes towards maintenance of the bowling greens which is significantly subsidised by the council.

But the council now wants the clubs to look after their own bowling greens which would mean members have to pay more, according to Mr Fenn.

He said: “It won’t work if we as individuals have to do the work. If we can contract out the work, to another company it could work. The problem is that the costs would be three to four thousand pounds.

“The only way to do it is to increase the cost of membership of the clubs to £80. I don’t think people would pay that.”

The campaigners have long argued that bowling keeps people active and in good health through exercise.

Aside from depriving elderly people of a social activity, Mr Fenn believes that closures of bowling greens and prohibitive membership fees would cost the NHS.

He said: “We feel that sporting activity that we do helps in so many different ways keeping people active and healthy and it saves money for the NHS.”

“There would be people sitting in their homes, not getting out, mixing with people, levels of fitness and then becoming ill.”

However, Mr Fenn says that bowling is not just for elderly people.

He wants to promote the sporting activity to young people and has been working with schools to that end.

“I’m conscious that over the years we haven’t done enough with young people. But it’s open to anybody from 5 to 95.”

The cuts to bowling greens were approved in the budget for the next two financial years back in February.

The town hall must make savings of £31.5m over that period.

This takes the total figure of savings targets over a 10-year period to almost £190m.

Mr Fenn said: “Members appreciate that the council is having cuts imposed on them by the government and they have to decide which way they make their cuts. I think everybody’s losing out. W are conscious that as an elderly community, health is what could cost the local community more money for illness."

Council leader David Greenhalgh said although the savings targets have been set, how they are achieved is not set in stone.

He said: "Nothing will be imposed on these clubs. We will work with them to find a solution which works for everyone."

The Bolton News:

The Labour-run council proposed the bowling green cuts as part of its last budget while in power earlier this year.

Cllr Sue Howarth, who is now Labour’s spokesman for wellbeing and health, defended her party’s decision.

But she said the idea originated from coalition government ministers.

She said: “The Bolton Labour cabinet consulted on the council budget proposals 2019 and were persuaded to reduce the cuts to the bowling greens provision in the borough. Labour listened to the arguments against bowling green cuts.

“Bowling is a sociable sport good for health and wellbeing. It is felt that older adults will struggle to physically maintain bowling greens and pavilions themselves.

“The truth is that in the onslaught of savage austerity cuts to councils a Conservative and a Lib Dem minister, Nick Boles MP and Stephen Williams MP, wrote to councils in 2014 outlining the view that bowlers could take over the running of their greens, raise money and protect the assets.

“We want to promote health and wellbeing, the government wants our services cut to the bone”.