Saturday, 21 October 2017

Gym closes early thwarting planned protest

THE LA Fitness gym in Henley closed a day earlier than planned.

THE LA Fitness gym in Henley closed a day earlier than planned.

The complex in Newtown Road was due to shut at 4pm on Friday but instead did so at 10pm the previous day.

A group of residents fighting to save the gym had announced a protest would take place in the gym car park on Friday afternoon.

In an email sent to members at 11pm on the Thursday, LA Fitness chief executive Martin Long said he was closing early ?after much careful consideration? because he was concerned about the safety of customers and staff.

He said: ?It is with regret that we announce this... but the welfare of our members and staff is paramount and we are legally obliged to hand over our keys to the landlord in a timely and co-operative fashion.

?We?d like to thank you for your support over the years and sincerely hope you will continue to enjoy a fit and healthy lifestyle.?

LA Fitness has been evicted by its landlord Henthames, which bought the site last year and is understood to want planning permission for a care home.

Many of its 2,500 former members oppose the development, saying there are not enough alternatives in town. Henley leisure centre in Gillotts Lane, the only other venue with a pool, has a long waiting list for swimming lessons.

Despite the early closure, a dozen people assembled in the car park on Friday.

They included several customers who hadn?t received the email and turned up for a final workout.

A security guard was turning people away at the door as staff emptied the building.

The protesters included Sally Satch, of Reading Road, Henley, the mother of Olympic rower Will Satch, and Henley town councillor Sarah Miller.

Michelle Thomas, of Belle Vue Road, Henley, one of the protest?s leaders, was there with her 86-year-old neighbour Elizabeth Sheffield.

She said: ?This is a massive over-reaction on LA Fitness?s part. They obviously misunderstood and thought there was going to be a riot. It?s ridiculous considering they?ve always had our contact details. They could easily have phoned us to clarify our plans. I?m disappointed that they haven?t been more supportive.?

Mrs Sheffield said: ?I don?t receive the email alerts so I turned up here at 8.30am and found myself locked out.

?It?s pathetic because it?s a nice club and the members are very friendly. It?s badly needed by people of all ages.?

Steve Ward, of Reading Road, arrived at 3pm to take his children Charlie, six, and Joshua, three, swimming.

He said: ?The closure is very upsetting because we visit every week and the kids learned to swim here.

?I don?t know where we?ll go now as the pool at Gillotts is full and we don?t have time to go further afield.?

Alan Elston, 44, from Nettlebed, joined the gym in 1998, shortly after businessman Gerald Ratner opened it as The Workshop. He said: ?I?ve always come here regularly to swim, work out and take the odd class. I remember when the pool was first built and was open-air.

?The closure is a huge shame and a great loss to the community. It has always been a great club.?

The protesters have asked South Oxfordshire District Council to list the gym as an asset of community value.

If the planning authority approved the idea, Henthames would be legally obliged to give the community six months to compile a bid if it decides to sell the site.

Developer NL Properties has confidentially discussed the care home scheme with the town council?s planning committee but is yet to submit a planning application to the district council.

An unnamed investor has expressed an interest in buying the premises and re-opening it as a gym.

LA Fitness has apologised to members for the closure, saying it had tried in vain to negotiate a new lease with Henthames.

The campaigners have also launched a petition which now has about 800 signatures.

The petition can be signed at the Tesco store in Reading Road, the Hart and Bell GP surgeries or town centre coffee shops Cafe Copia, Costa, Hot Gossip, Caffè Nero and Starbucks. Alternatively, visit the website, http://chn.ge/1MN2mMw

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