The Gymnastics Company, also known as Gymco, currently runs sessions from Field Place, Thomas a Becket Junior School and West Park School but this presents a number of logistical challenges.
Gymco wants permission to set up a permanent home in an empty industrial unit in Woods Way, Goring, which would allow it to offer significantly more classes and employ more coaches.
However this application for a change of use was refused by Worthing Borough Council’s planning committee on Wednesday night (February 27) on the chairman’s casting vote with children looking on in the public gallery.
The club is attended by 379 children and has a waiting list of around 100, according to the committee report.
‘Please be guided by positives’
Alice Howland, founder and head coach at Gymco, described how the long search for a suitable home as ‘extremely soul destroying’ given their unique requirements.
She said: “Without this opportunity the club’s future is in danger. Please do not let your decision be constrained by policy but guided by the positives we can provide for the community.”
But officers recommended refusal, arguing that the application went against the council’s policy of protecting employment space in key industrial locations.
Paul Yallop (Con, Marine), chairman of the committee, said: “This has been for me the most difficult application I have considered in the two years of chairing this committee, but as I have stated earlier I do have a casting vote and very reluctantly and with huge apologies to all the young people here because I know it’s not what they want but I’m going to have to cast my vote in favour of the proposal to refuse the application.”
Earlier in the meeting he suggested to approve the application would be to akin to ‘tearing up’ the council’s policies and would set a precedent for the conversion of other industrial units.
He added: “For me ultimately if we lose our industrial estates and we have already lost some due to permitted development I think Worthing is on a very slippery slope to becoming a dormitory town where there is no work and everyone has to leave to drive on our congested roads to find employment and that is something for me I can’t get past in my mind.”
The committee heard from one of the gymnasts, who described how she ‘absolutely loved’ Gymco, but a lack of permanent facilities made it hard and did hinder gymnasts’ development.
Roy Barraclough (Con, Goring) suggested the application was not seeking to remove employing space but was ‘simply proposing to use it differently’.
Committee split on change of use
Views on the application were split amongst committee members.
Steve Wills (Con, Castle) said he received a number of complaints about there being nothing to do for young children and felt the application ‘can only be good for the local and wider community’.
Hazel Thorpe (LDem, Tarring) highlighted the work the council was doing to improve health in Worthing by increasing participating in sports and activities.
She said: “To refuse this application outright would fly in the face of some of the council’s own priorities.”
But Alex Harman (Con, Selden) felt that organisations such as Gymco had to be given permission to set up in the right places that were backed by council policy.
He explained: “I would like to see them succeed in the town and grow in the town and take the steps they have spoken about. However the policy and legal basis somewhat outweighs that this evening.”
Jim Deen (Lab, Central) described being ‘enormously sympathetic to the aspirations’ of Gymco but said he could not go against policy in this instance.
It was suggested that the applicant could re-apply if local plan policies were adjusted or changed to allow for such industrial units to be converted into other use classes such as the one proposed.
But work on this is a while away from being completed. Meanwhile a review of open spaces will look at demand for built facilities.
After casting his vote in favour of refusal, Cllr Yallop said: “With a heavy heart the application is refused.”
Is your child a member of the club and want to share your thought about the decision? Email the newsdesk.