Monday, 24 April 2017

Mystery as care home site is offered for sale

The former LA Fitness building

A COMPANY which planned to redevelop the site of the former LA Fitness leisure centre in Henley as a care home is now selling the land.

Henthames, of Essex, bought the gym and pool off Newtown Road in 2015 and then secured planning permission to demolish it and build an 80-bed home.

It’s not clear what the sale of the site would mean to these plans.

The local community has until March 29 to express an interest in buying the land as it was listed as an asset of community value following the outcry over the closure of the leisure centre.

This means it cannot be sold on the open market before residents have had a chance to put together a bid.

If a potential bidder comes forward, Henthames won’t be allowed to sell to anyone else before August 15.

However, it doesn’t have to accept an offer from the community and can wait until the end of that period and then sell to anyone it chooses.

Henthames’s successful planning application was submitted in partnership with Hallmark, a care home operator. Consent was given for a three-storey block with a main entrance off Mill Lane, a service entrance off Newtown Road and 33 parking spaces.

Hallmark refused to comment on the sale of the 0.47 hectare site while no one from Henthames could be reached.

When the company bought the site, a residents’ group called Keep Henley Active launched a campaign to preserve it as a gym. Hundreds of people signed the group’s petition.

However, South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning committee argued there was enough leisure provision elsewhere and the care home would meet the growing needs of an aging population.

Michelle Thomas, leader of Keep Henley Active, said she was “flabbergasted” when she heard the land for sale. But she added: “My gut instinct tells me Henthames isn’t selling to a leisure company. I’d hope that was the case as I believe it’s the right thing but I very much doubt it.

“Perhaps it isn’t working out for them or they think there’s more money in selling it for ordinary residential purposes.

“Whatever their intention, I imagine a bid will be put together from the community.”

Former LA Fitness member Nick Roullier, who runs the No Limits gym in Reading Road, Henley, and investor Craig Marks, of Peppard, have previously expressed an interest in running the old centre as a gym.

Henley town and district councillor Stefan Gawrysiak said: “The town council will discuss whether there’s anything it can do to bring that site back into use as a swimming pool and gym, which is really needed in Henley.

“It’s too soon to say what the next steps might be but I think all options should at least be discussed.”

Henley Mayor Julian Brookes said: “I am digging to find out more. We need to know exactly what this means and what opportunities it presents to the community.”

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