A DEVELOPER has been allowed to convert a former Henley gym and swimming pool into a care home despite objection from more than 1,000 residents.
Henthames, which bought LA Fitness in Newtown Road for £1.8million shortly before it shut last year, was seeking permission to demolish the premises and build an 80-bed complex in their place.
At a meeting of South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning committee on Wednesday night, its application was narrowly approved on the casting vote of Councillor Felix Bloomfield, the chairman.
Members had been advised to give it the green light by planning officers, who said the scheme would provide jobs and care places while improving the look of its surroundings.
The meeting at Didcot civic hall was attended by about 40 opponents including Henley town councillors and members of the Keep Henley Active campaign group, who addressed the committee before it made its decision.
They said the development would cause traffic problems because it includes a new entrance off Mill Lane, which is often congested at weekends due to the volume of walkers using the river towpath and supporters attending matches at Henley Town Football Club’s grounds.
Additionally, developer McCarthy and Stone has been awarded permission for 53 “extra care” flats at the former Jet garage on the corner of Reading Road and Mill Lane, less than two minutes’ walk away, and they said this would exacerbate the problem.
They also opposed 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 claimed this is often crowded and is running a waiting list for some children’s swimming classes.
They added that Henthames’ site is not earmarked for housing in Henley and Harpsden’s joint neighbourhood plan, which passed a referendum in March. The document proposes a new cycle path across the land and this could not be built if the scheme went ahead.
However, officers said there was no evidence for their claims and that the neighbourhood plan, which passed a referendum in March, failed to outline specific policies for that site.
Opponents said three local investors had expressed an interest in buying and reopening it as a gym and pool but officers said that had no bearing on the planning process.
For the full story, see this week's Henley Standard.