Friday, 04 December 2020

"Pool closure hasn’t led to over-demand"

THE swimming pool at Henley leisure centre has not been oversubscribed since the closure of the LA

THE swimming pool at Henley leisure centre has not been oversubscribed since the closure of the LA Fitness gym and pool, it has been claimed.

Developer Henthames, which is planning to turn the site of the former gym into a care home, says the town’s one remaining pool is sufficient to meet demand.

The Essex company has submitted an amended application for an 80-bed, three-storey home at the site in Newtown Road following protests by members of the old gym, councillors and residents.

It delivered leaflets to residents notifying them of the latest plans at the end of last month.

Opponents have claimed that the leisure centre pool would be unable to meet demand following the closure of LA Fitness in August.

But a report compiled for Henthames by planning consultants Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners says there is no evidence to support this claim.

It says the leisure centre has added extra children’s swimming lessons and that there are no waiting lists for lessons. It also says that the pool can accommodate 60 swimmers at any given time but it is normally used by about 30 swimmers at peak times, which are early mornings in the week and 7pm to 8pm.

The report says: “The centre would turn people away if it reached the 60 swimmers limit but this very rarely happens.”

Henthames bought the 0.47-hectare site for £1.8million after LA Fitness was taken over by rival budget chain Pure Gym.

Its latest plans submitted to South Oxfordshire District Council include a number of changes, including the care home being moved north by 1.5m because of trees.

There are now 34 planned car parking spaces as opposed to 38 previously as the bays have been made larger.

More cycle hoops have been added on the Mill Lane side of the site. The company also says it has responded to the concerns of Network Rail, which has objected to the application, saying the development would encroach on to its land and could prevent gradient works taking place.

Henthames has also rejected a suggestion that there should be a footpath through the site, saying there is no public right of way.

Douglas Bond, of consultants Woolf Bond Planning, of Reading, said: “By the nature of the operation of the care home, providing safe internal and external environments for our residents is essential.

“To have unmanaged and unmonitored pedestrians close to the building would potentially unsettle our residents as the foot traffic would be so close to the building and presents security risks with doors opening out from the building in close proximity to the suggested pedestrian route, as well as potential for damage to be caused to our premises and vehicles parked in close proximity.”

Hallmark, which would operate the care home, says a footpath would create noise and mean the site would require security services.

Michelle Thomas, of Belle Vue Road, Henley, who started a campaign to re-open the gym and pool, said there was “nothing new” in the amended plans.

Mrs Thomas, who used to swim weekly at LA Fitness, said: “The only new thing is the Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan, which has been approved and is an important planning document.

“The reality is the timetable at the leisure centre is restricted. When they have general swim at the weekend it is full so people take a look through the window and walk out again.

“LA Fitness had availability all the time and lane swimming all the time. That pool was really important to the community.”

Mrs Thomas also pointed out that the consultants were based in London, so did not know this area.

She said the report said swimmers could use Castle Royle in Knowl Hill, and Danesfield House in Medmenham but she believed these were inaccessible and expensive.

About 1,350 people signed a petition in support of her campaign.

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

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