By Andrew Atkinson
Secretary of the Leeds Crown Green Bowls Association Steve Olivant has praised the decision not to cancel plans to close half of Leeds’s council-maintained bowling greens, in a U-turn.
Leeds City Council’s budget proposed reducing the number of bowling greens from 62 to 31, in an attempt to save £83,000 per year.
Following consultation with the public, the Council has chosen to scrap the proposals and increase the price of a season ticket from £31 to £40-a-year, for each player.
“£40 is still reasonable, which works out at about 90p a week per person. When you think about the money the Council said it would need to save, I think we got a good deal.
“All along, we argued about the benefits of the physical and social interaction it brings. I don’t know why we have had a U-turn – but it is welcome,” said Olivant.
With the coronavirus lockdown situation this year’s season looks bleak: “As it stands I don’t think the summer season will start in April, but it depends on how the lockdown goes,” he said.
Following the U-turn, and the future of Crown Green bowling, Olivant said: “I have been speaking to a couple of clubs and once we get going again, we are planning to hold open days.
“We are hoping to recruit some more participants and pushing the game forward.
“It’s like a new start, really. Then again, I think 99 per cent of our members will be rushing to get in, once it opens again.”
The U-turn decision has also received support from members of Leeds City Council.
Conservative Councillor Paul Wadsworth, the council’s opposition spokesperson for environmental services, said: “I welcome this decision, which was informed by all the input received from residents across the city, who told the Council clearly how important their bowling greens are.
“My group called for the reversal of this proposal from the outset. I recognise the Council faces a very real budget challenge, but the savings provided through the proposals were outweighed by all the benefits the bowling greens provided to their local communities.
“Listening to residents, I heard how the greens were enjoyed in so many different ways, from places to relax, to exercise, or just to meet friends new and old.
“I look forward to seeing the bowling greens re-open in the future.”
The decision forms part of plans for Leeds City Council to plug a £119m budget deficit for the coming year.
In November 2020 Leeds City Council consulted on closing half of the city’s council-maintained bowling greens.
A consultation document stated one of the proposals to help plug the authority’s projected £118m budget gap for 2021 was to close 50 percent of all public greens maintained by the council in order to save around £83,000 a year.
The Council’s consultation document stated there are 62 outdoor bowling greens on 48 sites managed and maintained by the Council’s parks and countryside service.
There is an overall cost of around £4,000 per green, largely made up of labour costs representing a total cost of £248,000 for all 62 greens. The level of income from members’ fees in 2019-20 was £43,000 and therefore the net level of subsidy is around £205,000.
The net saving would be £83,000 each year, which takes account of an assumed income reduction if 31 greens were closed, along with making due allowance for the capital cost of re-landscaping any greens removed.
Secretary of the CGBA Olivant, 55, said: “It was very disappointing to hear. I am considered one of the youngsters. Most of the bowls players are 60 or 70-plus.
“It’s really the only time some of them get the sort of social interaction, so I know it’s going to be a big shock to them.
“I know it’s only 50 percent, and bowling numbers have been going down, but we do have a thriving junior section as well.
“We do understand with the current financial climate that the Council is struggling to find money, but that figure does seem quite low, compared to the benefits it brings for so many people.”
Due to Coronavirus restrictions, the 2020 bowls season was unable to go ahead, due to the vulnerability of many of the aged players.
Olivant said: “I keep regularly in touch with bowlers, and everybody is missing it. It’s a friendly game, so it’s the social interaction I am worried about as it’s great to get out in the fresh air and meet new people.
“It’s a small but vital bit of older people’s recreation and sometimes it’s the only time they get out of the house.”
West Leeds bowling greens will remain in Armley Park, Bramley Park, Stanningley Park, Calverley Victoria Park, Farsley Westroyd Park, New Farnley Park, New Wortley Recreation Ground, Western Flatts Park in Wortley, Burley Park, Pudsey Park and Tyersal Park.
Bramley Park Bowling Club West Leeds.