06:00PM, Wednesday 16 June 2021
The Phoenix Gymnastics Club looks set to close for good after it was told to cease work on a new temporary building due to a lack of planning permission.
The Water Oakley club, which is 40 years old and provides training and activities for children of all ages, has faced a tumultuous time in its bid to move to a new home and has been battling the threat of closure in recent months.
The club signed a deal with contractors at the end of May to build a new temporary facility in Fifield.
It was in the process of filing a retrospective planning application – but did not complete this before the council intervened.
The council told the Phoenix that it did not have planning permission to carry out the work and told the gym to cease construction.
The gym insists that it has spoken to planning experts and is ‘confident’ there have been no breaches – but contesting this could take months, which it does not have.
The club has to leave its current site in Water Oakley, which is on the verge of redevelopment, this month.
In March, Phoenix said it was close to closure after being refused a loan that would allow it to build a purpose-built facility in Fifield.
But a ‘substantial’ donation from an anonymous benefactor gave the club hope of surviving and moving to its new home.
The club says that the feasibility of the new gym relied on it being able to continue to run the club elsewhere in the meantime.
Chair of trustees, Alisdair Thornton said: “We always knew the timescale for erecting a temporary building would be tight and that there would be planning challenges, but with the alternative being closure, we felt it was a risk worth taking to save the club we all love.”
“We had hoped that delivering a charitable, self-funded, world class, children’s sporting facility in the heart of the borough would elicit an acceptance and understanding from the council of the emergency situation we found ourselves in, but the opposite appears to be true.
“This is a bridge too far. We are emotionally and financially exhausted and we’ve nowhere left to turn.”
Lynn Bushell, Phoenix centre director, added: “I’m heartbroken that this is the end of the line for Phoenix.
“To have the rug pulled from under us when we were so close to achieving our goal is unbearable.”
But the council has said it had to take action due to the lack of permission for the project.
A spokesman said: “Recently, the council received a complaint that works on the new Phoenix Gymnastics Club site in Fifield had commenced, comprising drainage works. It has been established that works to form a culvert have been carried out.
“No planning permission has been granted for the erection of a temporary building nor has land drainage consent been granted for the culvert.”
The council added that the site is greenbelt and there are concerns regarding the impact on trees.
Councillor David Coppinger (Con, Bray) said: “You need planning permission for these things and if you do things without planning permission, you’re taking a risk.
“I believe we have always been supportive of the Phoenix Gym. But in this particular case, they have not approached the council about what they want to do.
“Planning isn’t just about the building – it’s the conditions around it, like operating hours, electricity, parking and drainage.
“The trouble with retrospective planning is, what happens in the eight weeks before permission is granted, assuming it will be granted? We have no control over site safety during those eight weeks.
“This is not like a private extension to someone’s house. This site has hundreds of children a week. We have to think about their safety.”
Final PlayGym and face to face classes will be on Friday, June 18 at Water Oakley.
Everything will close aside from trampolining, which will continue to run out of East Berkshire College in Langley.