Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Gym campaigners hold up developer’s care home plan

A DEVELOPER’S plan to turn a former gym and swimming pool in Henley into a care

A DEVELOPER’S plan to turn a former gym and swimming pool in Henley into a care home could be delayed after it was registered as an asset of community value.

Henthames, of Loughton in Essex, bought LA Fitness in Newtown Road a year ago and closed it last month.

Former member Nick Roullier applied for it to be listed as an asset of community value and now South Oxfordshire District Council has agreed.

It means that if Henthames was to put the site on the market, it would only be able to accept bids from within the community for the first six months.

Mr Roullier, from Shiplake, was among those who protested when LA Fitness closed, saying that there was no suitable alternative in Henley and that the swimming pool at Henley leisure centre was already booked up.

He wants the complex to remain as a gym and pool.

Mr Roullier said: “This is justification for what we think the community needs. It is a good step but the hard work really starts now. This is not about just building a gym, this is about building a facility for our community.

“A working group has been formed and we’re looking at the various funding options that have been offered to us. We’re looking for someone, or a body of people, who don’t just put in funding but expertise as well.”

In a statement, the district council said: “The asset is a sporting facility and meets the definition of social wellbeing or social interest of the local community.

“There is insufficient capacity at the alternative pool in Henley to accommodate all the members from the club, so some swimmers will have to travel to Reading if the pool closes.

“There is strong community support and there is an active group who support the continuation of the asset. There is no requirement for the nominating body to provide a business case. It does not necessarily follow that because one company has taken the commercial decision to terminate the lease that another entity will not be able to make it profitable.

“Currently there is no planning application in for change of use for the asset being considered, so it is reasonable to expect it to be able to continue as a leisure facility.

“Therefore we think that there is a reasonable prospect that the asset could further the social wellbeing in the next five years.”

Mr Roullier joined the gym when it was opened by jewellery magnate Gerald Ratner 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 in July and is now running it as No Limits.

The couple say No Limits will have to close as Henley Town Council, which owns the site, has earmarked it for housing. Town councillor Sam Evans, who backed a residents’ campaign to keep LA Fitness open, said she was delighted at the district council’s decision.

“It sends yet another very loud and clear message to the developer that we’re not just going to sit on our hands,” she said.

“It just shows that what we were told about it not being a viable business is utter rot. Our argument is that we can make money with it as a gym.”

The site was previously owned by LA Fitness but was sold to Henthames for £1.8million four months after rival chain PureGym took over the brand.

Developer NL Properties has discussed the care home scheme with the town council’s planning committee.

An unnamed investor has expressed an interest in buying the premises and re-opening it as a gym and Cllr Evans said others had expressed an interest in taking over the business.

To sign the gym campaign petition, visit http://chn.ge/1MN2mMw

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