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Blackwell Grange and Stressholme golf clubs, in Darlington, could merge under new cost-cutting plan
THE latest victim of the squeeze on local authority spending was revealed yesterday when a North-East council announced controversial plans to merge its municipal golf course with a private course in a £1m land swap deal.
Just months after Darlington Borough Council closed the town’s Arts Centre to save money, it has now proposed to hand over control of the council- owned Stressholme Golf Course to the neighbouring, and privately-run, Blackwell Grange Golf Club.
The proposed deal would also see the council take ownership of the vacated Blackwell Grange land, either side of Carmel Road South, at a cost of £1m, with an eye to developing lucrative executive housing in future years.
Although Stressholme has seen an increasing membership in recent years, despite the economic downturn, the cost of the annual council subsidy continues to rise at a time when other vital services are being put under financial pressure.
Ada Burns, chief executive of Darlington Borough Council, said the need to make £24m of savings in the next three years meant the authority was looking at all of its assets, particularly those that were costing the council money.
She said: “We have looked at a range of options and the proposed merger looks as if it is the best fit.
“We want to protect golf and support a sustainable pattern of golf facilities in Darlington, without the need for ongoing subsidies from the local authority.
“What we have been trying to do with the golf club is similar to what we did with the arts – we have got to pull out of subsidising these activities but we want to make sure it still carries on in some form.”
Council officers hope the move would save the authority more than £80,000 a year in subsidies to run Stressholme.
Blackwell Grange Golf Club has also been hit by the economic downturn and is facing falling memberships and income, with club secretary Doug Christie admitting the proposal from the council had come at a good time.
However, the entire plan could fail if Blackwell members reject the proposal when they vote later this year.
Mr Christie said: “We are a members’ club and the decision will be taken by our members.
We think there would be major benefits for the two clubs if they were to combine.
The ultimate sale of our existing facilites would be reinvested in Stressholme to improve the course and the clubhouse.
“We would remain Blackwell Grange Golf Club and would, of course, encourage and welcome members of Stressholme to join us.”
Staff from both clubs were told of the proposals at a joint meeting yesterday, but were told not to speak to journalists.
Letters will be sent to club members today to outline the proposals ahead of the public consultation exercise.
Golfers at Stressholme yesterday gave forthright views on a potential merger.
Tom Ward, 61, a member at Stressholme for three years, said: “This is a working man’s club, Blackwell Grange is a sociable club where people go to raise their profile. If their members think they can come here and impose themselves in the same fashion at this club, they should think again.
“If the fees do rise, then I would look at going somewhere else and I know there a lot of other people who might think of doing the the same.”
Brian Vaughan, 76, a member for ten years, said: “It costs me about £20 a month to play, so I’m happy with that. You can’t get better value, and the course and the staff are fantastic.
But if the cost does go up, then some of the pensioners might feel it a bit more and stop playing.”
Members of Darlington council’s cabinet will debate the proposals at a meeting on Tuesday.
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