Saturday, 23 June 2018

Developer plans to demolish gym to build care home

PLANS have been drawn up to demolish the former LA Fitness gym in Henley and replace

PLANS have been drawn up to demolish the former LA Fitness gym in Henley and replace it with a care home.

Developer Henthames wants to knock down the complex in Newtown Road to make way for a three-storey block with 80 beds.

The company bought the 0.47-hectare site for £1.8million earlier this year after LA Fitness was taken over by rival budget chain Pure Gym. The gym and swimming pool closed in August.

A month before, LA Fitness chief executive Martin Long emailed members to warn them of the closure, saying Henthames would not renew its lease on the premises.

Now the developer, which is based in Loughton, Essex, has submitted plans to South Oxfordshire District Council in partnership with care home operator Hallmark, of Wokingham.

The company says it has held provisional talks with the council’s planning officers, who “foresee no objection”.

It said the officers believed the development would not be out of keeping with the area as the gym building had no “particular architectural merit”.

The care home would be built of red brick and tiling with projecting bays and balconies, a gabled roof, dormer windows and timber-framed sections on several frontages.

A new main entrance would be created off Mill Lane, although the existing access from Newtown Road would be kept for service vehicles.

There would be 15 parking spaces on the Mill Lane side, including several for disabled people, with another 18 at the back of the property plus six bicycle spaces.

The building would be T-shaped and divided into three wings with courtyard gardens walled off by hedges around the outside.

A line of trees that runs along Mill Lane would be preserved and additional bushes would be planted to screen the site from Reading Road.

The bedrooms would be on the ground and first floors along with nine lounges or dining rooms, assisted bathrooms and toilets, hairdressing and treatment rooms, a cinema, café, physiotherapy room, study areas, a kitchen and laundry facilities.

Henthames says there would be “no undue impact” on the existing “limited” views, there would be “little or no impact” on neighbours in terms of noise and privacy and the development would “enhance” the area.

It says the home would satisfy a growing need for care home places in the area by providing a “full range of care needs”, including for people with dementia.

Between 60 and 80 part- and full-time jobs would be created.

Henthames’ consultant Carterwood says there is “more than sufficient demand” for the home and the district council should give “significant weight” to this.

It claims that in the next two years there will be a shortfall of 354 beds within an approximate 10-mile radius of Henley.

The fitness centre was opened by jewellery magnate Gerald Ratner in 1996 as The Workshop and changed hands several times.

When the closure was announced, members protested as the gym and pool at Henley leisure centre, which are the only alternatives, are at capacity and there is a waiting list for swimming lessons.

They successfully applied for it to be listed as an asset of community value, meaning local people must be given six months to put a bid together if the property is put up for sale. Henley town councillor Sam Evans, who is helping the campaigners, says three people from the Henley area have expressed an interest in running it as a gym.

She says one individual, who doesn’t want to be named, wants to buy the freehold of the site and two others would like to lease it.

This week Councillor Evans said: “Henthames have more or less told us that they’re willing to take this all the way to appeal if they have to, so it looks like they’ve got very little interest in running it as a gym and leisure centre.

“We were hopeful that they’d be open to reconsidering when they realised we had some very serious business proposals on the table but, sadly, they aren’t.

“We will have to pursue the planning route on this while the bidders continue to put their arguments  forward.

“We know this won’t be resolved quickly but we haven’t lost the battle yet.”

Henley Town Council has still to comment on the plans but will be invited to do so before the district council makes its decision in January.

• What do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley RG9 1AD or email

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