BOWLERS’ hopes of finding a new home close to the city centre are fading after crunch talks with council chiefs failed to identify a way forward.
Sunderland Indoor Bowls Club was left without a permanent home following the closure and demolition of Crowtree Leisure Centre.
Many of the club’s players now compete at an indoor green at Houghton or further afield in Stanley, County Durham.
But president and chairman Mike Davis argues that Houghton is too far for some club members, many of whom are elderly.
Cash-strapped Sunderland City Council announced plans last year to sell off its entire leisure and sports portfolio to interested companies.
It is estimated that such a deal could be worth between £50million and £120million over a 10-year period to any company forming a joint venture with the authority.
Last week, in a meeting with council officers, bowls club bosses were told that any likely agreement with a private leisure provider would not include a new indoor bowls facility.
A disappointed Mr Davis told the Echo: “According to the council officers, the game is in decline in Sunderland, although I don’t know where they got those figures from.
“They came up with all kinds of reasons as to why a new facility cannot be provided, so even though we had a business plan prepared for a while now, we are whistling into the wind.
“They are quite happy for us to play in Houghton, but there are still 240 to 250 people who are members of the club who are not able to play because it is too far away.
“Houghton is classed as being in the city, but it’s not in the city centre, and with the best will in the world, having to travel six or seven miles from Sunderland is difficult for some people who don’t have their own transport.”
The indoor bowls season runs from the beginning of September to the end of April each year. Mr Davis added: “I also find it ironic that the council keeps banging the drum about how important it is that older people have a healthy lifestyle, but it is not prepared to offer certain facilities.”
Councillor Harry Trueman, deputy leader of the council, said: “The city council continues to support Sunderland Indoor Bowling Club.
“It appreciates their frustration in not yet being able to identify suitable new premises.
“While participation for indoor bowls has been declining both nationally and locally, as a council, we recognise the importance of how all regular activity has an impact on overall health and wellbeing.
“We have invested, and continue to, invest significantly a broad range of facilities across the city providing all residents with a range of opportunities to participate in physical activity.
“In order to sustain this investment and help us build levels of participation, the council is in the process of selecting a partner to establish a joint venture company to operate the council’s sports and leisure facilities.
“This will help achieve the many millions of pounds in savings we need to make while protecting the council’s investments in facilities.
“More details on this partnership are anticipated to be available later this year.”
Anyone interested in helping out the bowls club can call Mr Davis on 528 2614.