Fitness fans express frustration as Earl Soham gym faces closure following council crack down
PUBLISHED: 18:18 15 June 2018 | UPDATED: 18:18 15 June 2018
A number of fitness fans in Earl Soham have been left devastated after their local gym announced it would have no choice but to close.
The Mint Fitness gym in Earl Soham received a letter from Suffolk Coastal District Council (SCDC) just three days ago informing owners that they must comply with reduced working hours or cease trading on Saturday, June 16.
However, while the latest warning was received this week, the gym was made aware back in January that it was breaching planning conditions – and would have to alter its opening hours.
The gym was granted an extension on the order on May 1, which meant – if it made the necessary changes – it could continue operating until mid-October.
However, since Mint Fitness failed to comply, the council is now threatening to revoke the extension.
In a statement issued to customers, the Mint Fitness team said they were “devastated” by the news, claiming that the decision was, among other things, down to a series of unfounded complaints made by local residents.
However SCDC said the notice had been issued because the gym was breaching the terms of the site’s planning conditions – which dictate that it should only open between 8am and 6pm, Monday to Saturday. A council spokesperson said the gym would be welcome to stay open for the period of the extension, provided it abided by these conditions.
A spokesperson for Mint Fitness said that, while he understood these terms, reducing the opening hours of the gym would make the business unviable – and therefore he had no choice but to close shop.
Mint Fitness had attempted to apply for retrospective planning permission – which would allow for extended opening hours – on two occasions previously, but had been blocked by complaints from a handful of local residents.
The company recently opened a new branch in Aldeburgh, and is hoping to launch a gym in Framlingham later this year. It now says it wants to work proactively with the council to find a “bigger, better premises in the area”.
Helen Bateman, a regular user of the Earl Soham gym, said: “In a time when the government is promoting health and fitness for a nation that is struggling with obesity and emotional well being, it is frustrating that a council would take a ‘not in my back yard’ approach to this.”
Margaret Samain, 72, from Framsden, added: “I have a membership there and it’s totally out of order and completely bizarre. We have got nothing, we have very little around here and it’s not doing any harm to anyone. It’s such a lovely little place and it’s such a shame and I just can’t understand it.”
Mrs Samain said the only other nearby facilities were a leisure centre in Debenham and Framlingham College, which she added was “limited” in terms of opening hours for the public.
A spokesperson for Mint Fitness said: “Whilst the planning enforcement notice does not explicitly require us to close down, the permitted operating hours are so restrictive that financially the only way we can comply with the notice is to cease trading.
“This is a very sad outcome for our at team Mint Fitness, our loyal customers and the Earl Soham community, but we are now focusing on working closely with SCDC Planning to find a bigger, better premises in the area.”
In November last year, the same month that the company’s second retrospective planning application was rejected, Mint Fitness received a financial grant from Suffolk County Council to help launch its Aldeburgh branch as a result of the contribution it had made to health and well-being in Earl Soham and the surrounding area.
A spokesperson for SCDC said: “The planning conditions on these units were put in place nearly a decade ago, following public consultation, to ensure this small commercial development did not have any negative impact upon local residents. We contacted the owners of the gym in January to make them aware that they were in breach of the conditions, specifically the condition which stated that business could only be carried out in these units between 8am and 6pm Monday to Saturday; and no work should be carried out on Sundays or Bank Holidays.
“They were granted an extension against the enforcement notice in May, on the strict understanding they worked within the planning conditions. However, they continued to open outside the allocated times and the council believes they intended to do so in the future. As such, we wrote to the gym owners again at the beginning of June to ask them to comply with the agreed conditions or we would be forced to withdraw the extension and the enforcement notice would come into force on Saturday, June 16.
“In the letter, we have stressed that this action was only being taken because the gym continues to breach the planning conditions and, should they comply with the planning conditions, the extension would remain in place. The decision to close the gym is one being taken by the owners, and has not been enforced by Suffolk Coastal District Council.”