Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Last-ditch bid to rescue gym

A HENLEY gym that closes today (Friday) could re-open under new ownership.

A HENLEY gym that closes today (Friday) could re-open under new ownership.

LA Fitness in Newtown Road is being evicted by its landlord Henthames, which is understood to want planning permission for a care home.

However, a potential investor has told Henley Town Council they would like to buy the site and lease it to a gym operator.

Councillor Sam Evans, who is backing a residents’ campaign to keep the facility open, wouldn’t name the individual but said they had “local connections”.

She said: “I can confirm someone wants to buy the freehold and is prepared to do so on the proviso that it’s used as a sports facility.

“There would have to be a formal agreement with the town and district councils and obviously negotiation with the landowner regarding the price. Of course, I don’t even know whether the landowner wants to sell, so it may not be an option.

“It’s a private matter so it’s out of our hands but we will keep talking with the potential buyer, who isn’t part of a major gym chain.

“We’re crossing our fingers that this could be a turning point.”

On Tuesday, developer NL Properties gave a confidential presentation about the care home plans to members of the town council’s planning committee.

Two campaigners spoke against the proposals before the public were asked to leave the meeting.

Kevin Shute, of Station Road, Shiplake, said: “This is a town defined by its sporting pedigree and prowess. We paint our post boxes gold as a sign of those achievements.

“I am not against care homes or other uses but we should do as much as we can for the health, fitness and wellbeing of residents.

“Closing LA Fitness would deprive my children and others in the future. We would be selling current and future generations of Henley visit short.” Michelle Thomas, of Belle Vue Road, Henley, said: “The only other place that offers swimming at a reasonable price is Henley leisure centre.

It has a waiting list at all levels so neither of my children has received any swimming tuition. Parents have had to do swimming lessons  themselves.”

Cllr Evans, a member of the committee, said she was opposed to the care home plan.

“We are a riverside town and the loss of a pool is downright dangerous, to put it mildly,” she said.

“If you get rid of a gym you will accelerate the need for a care home and I don’t want to be part of a council which advocates that.

“Henley punches well above its weight in its sporting contributions but there aren’t enough alternatives if we lose this.” The campaigners have asked South Oxfordshire District Council to list the gym as an asset of community value.

If the request, which is supported by Henley MP John Howell, is granted, Henthames will have to tell the council if it intends to sell the site. If so, the company would be unable to do so for six months to give the community a chance to bid.

Mr Howell said: “Although a certain amount of land must be set aside for recreational use under local planning policy, the overarching policy is not site specific.

“Individual applications are made on a site-by-site basis, taking into account national and local policy and site-specific issues.

“Of course we need to do everything we can to boost participation in sport. I am very much aware of the positive impact that sport can have.” The campaigners have also started a petition, which already has almost 700 signatures.

As the Henley Standard was going to press, campaigners planned to hold a final demonstration outside the gym.

Mrs Thomas, one of the organisers, said: “The petition has really captured people’s imaginations and I’m really happy with how it is going.

“A minority of people think it can’t be saved but I believe it can because any other use of the site would not satisfy planning policy.

“There must be adequate alternatives before such a facility can be closed but there’s nowhere near enough pool capacity or gym equipment in Henley.”

The petition can be signed at the Tesco store in Reading Road, the Hart and Bell GP surgeries or town centre coffee shops Cafe Copia, Costa, Hot Gossip, Caffè Nero and Starbucks.

Alternatively, visit the website, http://chn.ge/1MN2mMw

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