RESIDENTS who are fighting plans to turn Henley’s former LA Fitness gym into a large care home for the elderly staged a protest this afternoon (Monday, October 17).
About a dozen people stood outside the site off Newtown Road as members of South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning committee conducted a formal visit. The councillors will be deciding the application, submitted by developer Henthames, on Wednesday night.
Henthames, of Loughton, bought the premises shortly before they shut in August last year and now wants to demolish them to make way for a three-storey facility with 80 beds, 33 car parking spaces and a new main entrance off Mill Lane.
Opponents say this will cause traffic problems because the lane often gets congested due to the volume of walkers using the river towpath and supporters attending matches at Henley Town Football Club at weekends.
They also oppose the loss of a leisure facility, saying there are no suitable alternatives in Henley. The town’s only remaining swimming pool is at Henley leisure centre, off Gillotts Lane, and they say this is often crowded with a waiting list for some children’s swimming classes.
As councillors gathered at the site entrance, protesters waved placards bearing phrases such as “keep children swimming” and “save our pool”. They chanted these slogans at the group for several minutes.
Residents of Mill Lane hung photographs from nearby trees showing how busy it can get at weekends. These showed a line of parked cars running down the entire length of the street, reducing it to just over a single car’s width.
Despite local opposition, the district council’s planning officers have recommended approving the scheme. They say it will create vital jobs and care places while improving the look of the area.
They say the town has suitable alternatives and market forces will ultimately make up for any shortfall in provision. They also point out that Henthames could reopen it for several other purposes without needing permission.
For the full story, including coverage of the planning committee’s decision, see this week’s Henley Standard.