Jason Mines, who runs Grit Gym next to the railway station, is looking to move his business to an office unit in Terminus Road as he is unable to renew his lease due to financial reasons.
He described how if his planning application for a change of use was turned down the gym would close, adding: “It will be heartbreaking for me and my family and devastating for my members.”
Chichester District Council officers had recommended refusing the plans due to the loss of office space in Terminus Road and the absence of two years’ worth of robust marketing required by the authority’s planning policies.
The council’s planning committee was split at six votes both for and against, before the plans were then turned down on the chairman’s casting vote today (Wednesday August 15).
The building is currently let to West Sussex County Council which uses it for archiving records and library services.
If the gym was to move into the building the county council would condense its operations into the unit immediately to the south.
No external alterations were proposed, but the gym would have to carry out some internal modifications through the removal of existing partitions.
The site is owned by CDC, which engaged Flude Commercial to market the property in May 2016, however there was no formal public marketing campaign until October 2017 with little interest from any potential occupiers.
Planning officers felt marketing of the site was not sufficiently robust prior to October 2017 to meet policy requirements.
Rowan Bailey, speaking in favour of the application, described how the gym had been a ‘salvation’ for him and was also a ‘therapy centre’ for many others.
Mr Mines, who started the business four years ago, said: “This is my very last chance to save my very successful Chichester business.”
Pam Dignum (Con, Chichester South), addressing the committee as a local ward member, said: “This site has proved unattractive during marketing, with no additional enquiries. Only Grit Gym can see its possibilities.”
During the committee debate Richard Plowman (LDem, Chichester West) argued in favour of relaxing the policy requirement for two years of marketing as the gym was a ‘thriving business’.
Julie Tassell (Con, Funtington) added: “In today’s world we have to be seen to be doing something about health and fitness and encouraging businesses like this.”
Meanwhile Gordon McAra (Ind, Midhurst) argued this was a chance to keep the staff working at the gym in employment, while also suggesting the soft marketing before October 2017 was probably more effective than a formal campaign afterwards.
But Jane Kilby (Con, Chichester East) said: “We have to be consistent on policy and this is where I find it very difficult. What we have not been shown is the two years of robust marketing that is needed.”
Tricia Tull (Con, Sidlesham) added: “If we do not maintain this policy we will be in great difficulty with other applications which will be less desirable than this one.”
Bob Hayes (Con, Southbourne), chairman of the committee, said: “This is a difficult one for me as well and I know the impact of the gym with people with disabilities is immense. However it comes down to the policy.”
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