PLANS that could see a bowling alley transformed into a retail unit have been backed by councillors.
The owners of UK Superbowl, on the Tees Bay Retail Park in Hartlepool, applied to planners for permission in light of the dwindling numbers of people bowling at the facility.
Hartlepool Borough Council’s planning committee met yesterday to agree the plans.
No-one from Savills, the agent for owner Chase Property Developments, was at the planning meeting, but a spokeswoman has said previously there were no immediate plans to change the use of the building.
But planning officers said if it did close then it could quickly be turned into a retail unit if permission was granted.
If the alley were to close, bowlers would have to travel to Teesside Park, in Stockton, for the nearest similar facility.
Putting Hartlepool First councillor Keith Dawkins has been bowling for more than 30 years and he regularly competes in the leagues at UK Superbowl.
He spoke at the meeting on behalf of the bowlers who had objected to the proposals, including a petition signed by 260 people.
Coun Dawkins, who represents the Jesmond ward, said: “Obviously I am disappointed that this has come forward.
“We do need family leisure facilities in this town.”
Labour councillor Paul Beck added: “It is a sad that we are faced with losing another facility for disabled people, young people and people of all abilities.
“But we have to consider the job element here too because we are creating jobs if it is used for retail.”
Conservative group leader Ray Wells said it makes sense for the owner to have a back-up plan if the bowling alley does close.
He added: “If the business flourishes I’m sure it will remain, if not then the owners have a back-up plan.”
Putting Hartlepool First group leader, Geoff Lilley, said he has sympathy for people who use the site and added: “I will be sad to see it go, but I can’t see what else we can do.
“Granting this is the best thing we can do to increase the viability.”
A report said the applicant had informed planners that customer numbers using the bowling alley had “declined significantly” in recent years and that the Hartlepool site is running at a loss.
The 20-lane bowling alley has a dining area, licensed bar and arcade area.
UK Superbowl is next to the new home-shopping superstore The Range on the retail park off Brenda Road.
The plans were approved by members with nine in favour, one against and one abstention.