'The mental and physical health of our members is at stake' – says gym manager as plans to close Inverness gym could get green light next week
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The manager of a popular Inverness gym at risk of being replaced by a bowling alley is urging councillors to consider the impact on the community.
On Tuesday members of the south planning committee will have their say on the planning application seeking to turn the building which now hosts Everlast Gym and Sports Direct in Eastfield Way into a ten-pin bowling centre and indoor inflatable activity course, with bar, dining area and amusements.
With the application by applicant Hercules Unit Trust recommended for approval, gym members and staff are hoping councillors will consider the "broader implications" when taking the decision next week.
Everlast Gym general manager Nagina Ishaq said the impact this will have on their members is a major concerns.
"It breaks my heart to think that the people who have achieved incredible progress in rehab will risk losing this service and support," she said.
"It's the mental and physical health of our members that will be compromised.
"Highland is in dire need of mental health support, yet we are on the brink of closing a facility that serves the wider community and at no cost to the Highland Council.
"I would like to see the councillors take the accountability of providing an alternative to all the members should they vote in favour of this application."
When the planning application was first lodged, members of the gym and staff members – who were made aware of the plans via news sources – said they were shocked and saddened as the facility provides an accessible swimming pool which can be more easily used by people with various disabilities and reduced mobility, something which many members said was not available in other facilities in the area.
Ms Ishaq said a group supporting the gym will be attending the meeting next week – although they will not be able to contribute to the official debate.
Talking about the recommendation to approve the application, she added: "I’m unsurprised by the recent approval of the change of use application by the planning officer, considering the prior provisional approval in the pre-planning stage. To the officer, it appears to be another project, treated as a routine tick-box exercise.
"From the outset, our community has been urging Councillors and ministers to consider the broader implications. I implore all council members to fulfill their duty as public servants and be the voice of constituents who entrusted them with their votes.
She said she "strongly disagreed" with the planning statement, which states that the inflatable activity course can be considered a health and fitness use.
"Comparing it to an existing facility under Class 11, dedicating over 2,000 square feet to health and fitness alone for all age groups, as opposed to proposed inflatable centred being attempted to define as Health and Fitness activity alienating a large section of community as offering a limited space 1st floor."
The new tenant should the plans get approval will be Hollywood Bowl, which runs 66 different sites across the UK. Fresh documents lodged as part of the application process also state that the new centre would create almost 50 jobs.
Defending the plan to move new tenants into an already occupied site in the Inverness Shopping Park, the Trust's agents claimed that the decision to vacate the planned site was taken by Sports Direct and Everlast's owners, Frasers Group, after failing to come to a fresh deal over rent for the building.
However, Ms Ishaq said that Frasers Group has not served any notice to the landlord.
"This is a clear indication that negotiations from their part are still not closed and is pending to the landlord’s willingness to reach a favourable agreement.
"There have been no signs for us that Frasers Group wish to vacate the building. We are keeping on recruiting staff and welcome new members.
"I would like to compel all the Councillors to take their time to read the comments public has made on this application which was realistically not possible for the Planning Officer to comprehend."