Former rugby player hits out at council after gym application rejected
Twm Owen – Local Democracy Reporter
A former rugby player who hoped to open an Olympic weightlifting gym in Pontypool has hit out after planning permission was refused.
Torfaen Borough Council’s planning department said the plans to turn a disused garage into a gym would damage employment prospects and also said the base, on Rockhill Road, was too far from the town centre.
Matthew Williams, who formed the not-for-profit Torfaen Strength Academy as a charity with two partners, said the decision was punishing an initiative that intended to support the community and accused the council of “double standards” in how it applied its “town centre first approach to planning”.
He said the council was holding a new, locally formed charity to higher standards than big firms such as supermarket Aldi which was allowed to open a new store at Skewfields, outside the town centre, last year.
Mr Williams said: “It’s seems unfair to be discriminated against when a big company like Aldi can put up a supermarket outside of town with permission of the council, dragging the community to the outskirts to shop, hitting family run businesses but refuse a charity permission.
“Big business is okay to open at the expense of the town first approach, yet our town first approach is declined. This seems discriminatory, counterproductive and double standards from the council.”
The former Pontypool, Bedwas and Pontypool United flanker also said the Auto Services building where it was planned to base the gym is just 30 metres outside of the area defined as the town centre by the council.
A decision notice issued by Torfaen’s planning department stated Mr Williams’ application hadn’t provided “adequate information… such as a sequential test” to show how establishing a gym wouldn’t be at odds with planning policies intended to protect town centres as core retail locations.
It also said the proposed use of the industrial unit “is considered to result in the unjustified loss of employment land”.
During the application process Mr Williams had provided further information to the planning department outlining how the two units it was planned to convert hadn’t been occupied in more than three years and it was unlikely they would be brought back into use as a car workshop as there is another MOT garage operating from the same building.
The academy also intended to provide training opportunities for careers in the fitness industry – which it was claimed could help create up to 25 jobs over five years.
The information supplied also listed the existing gyms operating in Pontypool and how the specialist provision, which would have also catered for those training for the Olympics and Paralympics who are currently travelling as far as Cardiff for an accredited training base, wouldn’t have undermined their viability.
The council’s listed reasons for refusal also highlighted the impact on parking in the area, though Mr Williams says a potential solution was put forward, while the council’s ecologist said a bat survey would be required but one hadn’t been submitted.
Following the council’s refusal in June Mr Williams had been in touch with the town’s county councillors, Mark Jones and Caroline Price who he described as supportive, but said as the charity cannot afford to take decision to appeal it will have to give up the ambition of a gym at Rockhill Road.
Mr Williams said: “We will now lose the unit as we can’t afford to appeal the decision, so once again Torfaen people lose out.”
A spokeswoman for Torfaen council said: “All planning applications are considered on their individual merits and in accordance with policies contained in the adopted Local Development Plan for Torfaen and National Planning Policy unless there are specific circumstances to justify otherwise.”
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