A BID has been launched to stop a property developer from turning a Henley gym and swimming pool into a care home.
Henthames Ltd, of Loughton, bought the LA Fitness complex in Newtown Road last September and is closing it on August 14.
Now former member Nick Roullier, who lives in Shiplake, has applied for it to be listed as an asset of community value.
This means that, if Henthames were to put it on the market, it would only be able to accept bids from within the community for the first six months.
The rule was introduced under the 2011 Localism Act and is administered and enforced by South Oxfordshire District Council.
For the next eight weeks, the authority is inviting comments from residents to gather evidence that the centre is popular.
Until it makes a decision, Henthames will not be able to put it on the market or change its use.
Mr Roullier joined the gym when former jewellery magnate Gerald Ratner opened it as The Workshop in 1996.
His wife Gabbi was a fitness instructor there but moved to Core Studio off Reading Road, previously called Exclusively Ladies, in 2010.
She took over the business three weeks ago and is now running it as No Limits.
The couple’s children Ella, 14, Mia, 12, and Ollie, 10, learned to swim at LA Fitness and they say other youngsters will struggle if it goes.
They say No Limits will close soon as the site, which Henley Town Council owns, is earmarked for housing in the town’s neighbourhood plan.
Mr Roullier said: “The gym in Newtown Road has been part of my life since I moved here. It was at the heart of the community and a place to meet our friends.
“We lost Urban Fitness in Greys Road car park last year and the gym at Gillotts School is reaching maximum capacity.
“We are a riverside town yet we don’t have enough swimming facilities. They’re particularly important for our children but there’s now a waiting list for lessons at Gillotts.
“I understand that Gillotts can only take about a quarter of the 2,000 people who were members of LA Fitness. The fact that there were 2,000 members is testament to the level of demand.
“Studies show most people won’t travel more than 20 minutes to get to a gym so there needs to be more provision locally.”
Mr and Mrs Roullier have also asked Henley Town Council to write a leisure strategy to ensure there are enough facilities in the area.
Mr Roullier said: “We’re looking to fill the gap in gym provision with No Limits but there’s a broader community issue at stake.
“We can’t carry on here forever but the council has an obligation to rehouse us — why can’t they buy the LA Fitness site?
“We’ve been swamped by people who want to sign up and are concerned at the loss of a pool for their children.
“We have a large facility here but it isn’t ideal — we’ve only got one changing room, for example.
“I’m told it’s unlikely that Henthames would get permission for a change of use but you never know.
“If they don’t get consent it would be nice to work with them to secure a decent and locally—run facility.”
Town councillor Sam Evans, who is liaising with the Roulliers, said: “I’ve been blown away by the strength of feeling against the closure.
“It seems to run across all age groups, from retired people who want a gentle workout to families who want swimming lessons for their children.
“It’s an absolute nightmare for parents now; the chances of enrolling for lessons at Gillotts are minimal due to the long waiting list.
“As a councillor I feel I must do something because so many people are up in arms.
“Registering it an asset of community value will buy us more time to consider our next steps. I’m sure we’ll do everything we can to get someone else in to run it as a gym.
The site was previously owned by LA Fitness but was sold to Henthames for £1.8million, four months rival chain PureGym took over the brand.
It also includes The Workshop, an industrial unit opposite the entrance to the gym
In a letter to members on July 3, LA Fitness chief executive Martin Long said he was “deeply sorry” at the news and the company had tried to negotiate a new lease.
The Orders of St John Care Trust, who run the Chilterns End care home in Chilterns End Close, Henley, are due to move to a new 64—bed facility at Townlands Hospital within the next year or so.
B&M Care, another operator, agreed to buy the 0.6—acre Henley Youth Centre site in Deanfield Avenue for £3million last month.