YOUNG children could be left home alone while their parents are at work if an after school group in Westhoughton is forced to close, it is claimed.

Staff at the Kids Club say hundreds of families will be badly hit if plans to build houses at St Bartholomew's parish hall are given the go-ahead.

The group looks after 150 four to 11-year-olds before and after school and during the holidays and if the development goes ahead, they said the children will have nowhere to go.

The church claims it has been forced into submitting the plans because of a lack of cash to finance improvements and said the people who run the group have the opportunity to buy the parish hall from them.

Cath Renton, 37, who started the Kids Club three years ago, said the development would mean an end to the group, which is an essential service for many working parents.

She added: "I have been inundated with worried parents who want to know what will happen. If these houses are built, we will close, it's as simple as that.

"There is nowhere else for us to go. I drove around looking for buildings in Westhoughton we could move in to, to expand, and there aren't any."

In addition to the development of the parish hall, on the site off Market Street, there are also plans to convert the existing vicarage into nine homes.

Cath, with her six staff and dozens of parents, have now started a campaign to save the parish hall. They have been joined by the Tithe Barn Tots playgroup, which uses the property during school hours, and have started a petition and have written to the parish.

Cath said: "This hall is needed by more than a hundred families in the town. Knocking it down and building two bungalows will benefit hardly anyone.

"The implications of us having to close are immense."

Cllr David Wilkinson, Westhoughton Town Council leader, is also putting his support behind the campaign.

He said: "The two groups are extremely valuable and I am disappointed the diocese has put in this application.

"I believe the church still has a pivotal role in society and in promoting family life and I would hope they would put children before two houses."

St Bartholomew's does not have a vicar at the moment, but Rev Stephen Beach, team vicar for Westhoughton and Wingates, explained that the church had been forced to sell the land and buildings, because they could not afford the money to repair the vicarage.

He added: "More than £60,000 would need to be spent on it to put it in order. The church simply doesn't have those kind of resources.

"We regret the sale of the parish hall, but would stress that the people who run the children's clubs have an option to buy the building - it is not in our plans to bulldoze the building."

Rev Beach said the scout hut was not part of the re-development plans because the church wants to go on meeting the needs of young people in the community. An uncertain future lies ahead for the staff and children at the Kids Club