Sunday, 24 June 2018

Councillors greeted by chanting protesters during site visit

RESIDENTS fighting plans to turn Henley’s former LA Fitness gym into a care home staged a protest.

RESIDENTS fighting plans to turn Henley’s former LA Fitness gym into a care home staged a protest.

About a dozen people gathered at the site off Newtown Road on Monday afternoon while members of South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning committee conducted a formal visit.

It came two days before the committee decided to approve the scheme.

Henthames, of Loughton, Essex, bought the site shortly before LA Fitness shut in August last year.

It plans to demolish the gym building to make way for a three-storey care home with 80 beds, 33 car parking spaces and a new main entrance off Mill Lane.

As councillors arrived at the site, opponents waved placards bearing phrases such as “keep children swimming” and “save our pool”. They chanted these slogans at the group for several minutes and urged them repeatedly to reject the application.

The councillors ignored the protest because they weren’t allowed to interact with the public in case it prejudiced their judgement.

Residents of Mill Lane hung photographs from nearby trees showing how busy the street can become at weekends. These showed a line of parked cars running down the entire length of the road, reducing it to just over a single car’s width.

Karen Rutter, who has lived in Mill Lane since 1985 and used to be a member of LA Fitness, said: “I’ve followed this application very closely because the proposed entrance has huge implications for us being able to get out of our houses.

“At the moment, about half the people who use Mill Lane are cyclists or pedestrians but if this gets the go-ahead it will tip the balance toward cars. There aren’t any pavements so it would be less suitable for people with dogs or pushchairs — they would be forced to walk in the road.

“We’re also concerned about the loss of the shortcut from Mill Lane to Newtown Road and have applied for it to be designated a public footpath.

“It has been used by the public for at least 20 years, so it should remain open and we hope the current closure is only temporary.”

Natalie Bowhill, of Manor Road, attended with her two-year-old son William James.

She said: “We’ve only got the pool at Henley leisure centre left now and there are hundreds of children who want to learn to swim or go swimming with their parents.

“There’s now very little capacity for that as the leisure centre is often very busy so families that just want to swim at their leisure are finding it difficult.

“There’s also a waiting list for swimming lessons despite it being a Government target for children to learn to swim by year 1 and 2.”

Annabel Watts, of Belle Vue Road, used to swim at LA Fitness with her two children.

She said: “I used to come here three times a week and it played a vital part in the life of the community – you would come here and meet all your friends in the café afterwards.

“There are lots of smaller gyms in Henley but there’s nothing like this and with a swimming pool. The swimming classes at the leisure centre are a lot bigger.

“Lots of other care homes are in the pipeline already and once we lose this facility we’ll never get it back.”

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