Highland Council planners recommend approval of plan to replace Everlast gym in Inverness
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Highland Council’s planning portal has been deluged by more than 200 comments, mostly objections, to plans to convert the Everlast Gym and Sport Direct outlet at the retail park into a ten-pin bowling centre and indoor inflatable activity course.
Officials have recommended that councillors approve planning permission submitted by the landlord, Hercules Unit Trust, for a change of use but gym-goers are not at all happy with the move.
The matter is to be decided at the council’s south planning applications committee next week where councillors will have to risk the ire of public opinion if they choose to side with the recommendations.
That is after former Newcastle United owner, Mike Ashley and Fraser’s Group – which owns both Everlast and Sports Direct – pulled out “following lengthy negotiations.”
Fraser's apparently told Hercules Unit Trust that it was not “financially viable on the proposed terms and that they would therefore look to vacate the premises.”
According to planning official John Kelly: “In light of this situation, the applicant has explored alternative uses for the premises in order to secure the long-term viable use of this large unit.
“The planning application proposals will secure the long-term active use of the existing building.”
But more than 200 submissions were made on the council’s online portal calling on the local authority to keep the gym, with some referring to the facility almost as a lifeline service.
The problem is that, according to Mr Kelly, the council does not have the powers to reject the application on that basis.
He said: “It is clearly evident from the comments received by parties concerned with the potential closure of the health and fitness centre that the existing facilities are held in high regard.
“Many of the representations received have highlighted the physical health, mental wellbeing, and social benefits that the centre provides and the negative impacts that closure could bring.
“Nevertheless, these are not material planning considerations relevant to the determination of this application.”
He added: “Whilst the council as planning authority seeks to manage the use of land and buildings in the public interest it has no locus in compelling a landowner to agree terms of occupation of any land or building with a particular third party, or require that a particular third party must occupy, or continue to occupy, land or buildings.
“Such decisions are private legal matters to be negotiated and agreed between the relevant interested parties.
"The role of the Planning Authority in this case is simply to assess the suitability of the proposed use at this location, and not the impact of the existing use terminating, being a matter in which it has no regulatory or policy control.”
That means a change of use from a health and fitness centre to a ten-pin bowling centre and indoor inflatable activity course with associated bar and dining facilities and other amusements is more likely to go ahead.
However, Hercules claims that almost 50 jobs if it gets planning consent with one of the UK's biggest bowling alley brands – Hollywood Bowl – lined up to run the facility at the retail park.