“It makes a mockery of the planning system” says independent gym owner

Gym owners, Alex & Amber

The owners of an independent gym on Caxton Road have slammed the planning process after Bedford Borough Council permitted a 24-hour gym to open on the same industrial estate.

Alex and Amber Lowndes bought their gym, safe in the knowledge that a nearby warehouse had been granted D2 change of use which planning documents showed was to become a trampoline park.

After committing to invest £60,000 in the rebranded Gainz Fitness & Strength, the couple discovered that the council’s planning department had, in June 2019, allowed the change of use to switch to a gym, allowing Pump Gym’s 24-hour facility to open barely half a mile from their premises.

Caxton Road industrial estate is already home to three existing and established gyms, alongside other large employers including e.on, Dunster House and BMW.

“We’re not upset at the Council,” Alex told the Bedford Independent.

“But it makes a mockery of the planning framework that has allowed this to happen.

“Bedford is crying out for a trampoline park and the site would have been perfect for it. This side of town has few facilities for children, and its proximity to the bypass would mean it was easy for people all over Bedford to access.

“The planning consultant submitted the D2 change of use to the council based on a trampoline park, based on research into how this would impact traffic on the estate, number of people employed and the benefit to the surrounding area. The nature of the traffic generated by a gym will be very different to that of a trampoline park”

“When considering change of use, local stakeholders are invited to submit letters of support or opposition. These carry weight with the local authority to prove that the change of use is needed and wanted in the local community.”

Based on the trampoline park submission, Bedford Borough Council granted D2 leisure use to the warehouse.

This means that any business falling under the ‘leisure’ category can now occupy the building, regardless of whether there are similar, or even identical, businesses nearby.

“When granting change of use, planning departments can add a caveat or clause, limiting the specific use to the actual use requested”.

“We believe Bedford Borough Council planning department were careless in not attaching a ‘restricted use condition’ into the D2 change of use for this building.

“By not doing so, they have denied the people of Bedford a much-needed leisure facility and have permitted a gym – generating more traffic – to an industrial estate that is already struggling with the existing volume of cars and parking.

“We understand that nothing illegal has gone on, but question whether the process is fit for purpose.”

A Borough Council spokesperson said, “Permission was given for a trampoline park at this site in August 2018.

“A trampoline park and a gym fall within the same category of use and therefore this change of purpose is not expected to have a greater impact on the area, for example affecting parking or noise, so a condition to restrict the use was not placed on this application.

“Commercial competition or loss of trade to a similar business is not a planning matter and we are unable to give that concern any consideration in the decision making process.”

Amber and Alex launched Gainz Gym in St Neots in 2017, expanding into their Bedford site in February 2019.

Formerly Golds Gym, the facility had many loyal members, most of whom have become Gainz customers.

“Our gym is not just somewhere to exercise, it’s somewhere to meet people, to socialise and enjoy the group camaraderie,” said Alex.

“Some people have trained here for over 15 years. It’s like a second home to them and we’re as dedicated to supporting them as we are new members.

“We’ve spent around £60,000 refurbishing the gym and we’re here for the long term. We believe in great customer service and putting something back into the local community.”

Emma Sills, chief operating officer at Pump Gyms, said, “The trampoline park company who made the original planning application decided not to proceed, as they were concerned with the slump in the trampoline park market.

“The property was on the market for some time before we were approached.

“We applied to the council to amend the application to D2 unrestricted which they did. We are bringing an exceptional high spec facility at an extremely low cost. We will also be employing 20 members of staff from the local area.”

“We don’t blame the council,” said Alex. “But there was a lack of care in granting permission. We put too much faith in a flawed system.”