BOWLERS say their sport could end in Bolton if proposals to raise fees go ahead.

In a bid to meet the £23.5m in savings needed, Bolton Council has looked to bowling greens to balance the books. Town hall chiefs have issued options to bowling clubs using council-run greens across the borough to reduce running costs by £67,000. The package of proposals include an increase of fees from £25 for the summer season to £65 per person.

Currently the majority of the clubs’ amenities are funded by the authority. A £25 “park permit” gives bowlers access to all Bolton Parks bowling greens maintained by the council and goes towards maintenance of the bowling greens, which is significantly subsidised by the council.

Last year, clubs were consulted on the possibility of changes to the funding.

But outraged bowlers say this change in fees to £65 will be unaffordable for many — potentially leading the downfall of entire teams.

Ken Holcroft, chair of the Bolton Parks Veterans Amateur Bowling Association, said the changes could seriously affect the 1,000 members of the bowling community in the borough: “It is a grave disappointment. I just feel we have been badly let down, we were not expecting anything like this.

“It’s for vulnerable adults, it’s healthy, it’s social. Small clubs with 15 and 20 members, they might not pay and quite a few teams will drop out of the league. I am almost defeatist about it now.”

Clubs from across Bolton are also speaking out against the proposals. Peter Boothman, the chair of Egerton Park Bowling Club, says that bowlers will be forced to leave the game.

He said: “Many people will leave the game and the greens will become disused. It’s going to mean the end of bowling in Bolton for many clubs.

“We had people leave the clubs when the fees went up to £25, they could not afford it then.

“I’m absolutely shocked at this.”

Other changes in the package include a new charge of £500 or £750 for the winter use of bowling huts, depending on the size and use of the building, and closure of the social building at Haslam Park.

The council also suggests stopping the maintenance of two secondary greens at Kearsley Park and Westhoughton Central Park

A spokesman said: “At Kearsley there is alternative capacity in the area (with the remaining green) and there is insufficient demand at Westhoughton Central Park. A single, maintained green would still remain at each of these sites along with a pavilion building.”

But local councillors have hit out at that suggestion.

Kearsley councillor Paul Heslop said: “Kearsley bowling club has three teams and if the proposals as laid out in the consultation were to go ahead then the club would need to disband one team because league rules cannot accommodate playing on different days of the week.

“Given that so much of Kearsley’s amenities have been taken away by Bolton Council ­— including playing fields, tennis courts, football pitches, a library and community centres ­— I was surprised that the ruling group even attempted to slash Kearsley’s facilities even further.

"Bowling is probably the last ‘place-based’ service that this council provides in Kearsley.”

Finally the proposals suggest reducing the end of season renovation at greens to drainage work only — something the bowling association’s secretary, Clive Fenn, is against.

Along with the rise in fees, he says the cost of additional maintenance needed would have to be met by the club.

He said: “I do not think they should stop the maintenance, it is required and can cost up to £2,000.”

Mr Boothman also says that bowlers cannot be left to deal with maintenance.

He said: “The average age of our players is late 60s and early 70s. People have retired and are not in great health."

But the leader of Bolton Council says that the proposals are necessary and will ensure that each club will still have a green to play on.

Cllr David Greenhalgh said: “We always said that this was an activity we wanted to keep in Bolton but that there might just be different ways of delivering the service.

“I’m really pleased that the options on the table would see every club still having a bowling green.

“We don’t want to lose any of the clubs in this town.

“Bowling greens have always been in the council’s remit and it’s right that should continue.”

All of the bowling clubs in the borough have been approached with the proposals and a drop-in session for representatives will also be held on February 3. A survey is also available online

Other town leaders say the changes need to happen for bowling clubs to survive.

Executive Cabinet Member for Environmental Services Delivery, Cllr Adele Warren, added: “We need to ensure that the future of our bowling greens is sustainable for years to come.

“The current situation means the greens and use of the pavilions all year round is heavily subsidised by the council.

“This needs to change and I’m pleased that the team have already had really productive conversations with the clubs.

“We know from all of our discussions with clubs that most accepted we would need to look to increasing fees.

“We have looked at every option as an alternative to reducing the number of sites available for users.”

The council says it will consider the feedback from clubs and the public before a final decision — which could be implemented as early as this spring.

But other local leaders say the bowling green are too precious to change, with Cllr Heslop saying: “Kearsley’s bowling greens are well used by the members, who play in multiple leagues and tournaments. In the words of one elderly user, ‘I’d be staring at four walls if it wasn’t for Kearsley bowling green.’

The bowling clubs will not go down without a fight as the league leaders plan to oppose the proposals.

Mr Fenn said: “It’s very fluid at the moment, we do not know how much the council is prepared to bend and move.

“When the council talked to clubs in August and September, they said there might be other options to make the £67,000 savings.

“If the permit does raise to that price it will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I think one third of the teams in Bolton will disappear.”