Row over Phoenix Gym claim that council 'put the final nail in the coffin'

Adrian Williams

Adrian Williams

The Phoenix Gymnastics Club has had a fiery exchange of views with the Royal Borough over the council’s offer to help find a new place for gymnasts – following the gym’s announced closure two weeks ago.

The club was in the process of filing a retrospective planning application for a temporary site in Fifield, next door to its planned permanent home – but did not complete this before the council told it that it must cease construction immediately.

Cllr Ross McWilliams (Con, Cox Green) lead for sport and leisure and Cllr David Coppinger (Con, Bray) lead member for planning, environmental services and Maidenhead wrote in an open letter to the Phoenix:

“This has not panned out as any of us would have hoped. We fully appreciate the desperate situation you were in and that you were acting to try to save the club you loved and were dedicated to.

“However, we likewise hope you will also appreciate that the Borough has strict planning processes and procedures to follow, which do not allow for ‘special cases’, particularly when relating to substantial development in the green belt.

“If we permit one green belt development to successfully go ahead without permission, then we would have set a troubling precedent that would be used against RBWM in future cases.”

“With the club no longer sustainable at present, we would like to work with you and draw on your relationships, connections, and expertise to see how we might maximise the use of the borough’s existing facilities,” they added.

“There are no off-the-shelf solutions we can reach too, but perhaps there is a way RBWM’s existing leisure estate can provide a temporary solution, albeit not on the same scale as before.

“Perhaps there are private/charitable facilities in the Borough we can tap in to, or maybe we may even yet find a suitable location for a permanent new gymnastics facility.”

The Phoenix was invited to meet with the council’s senior team to discuss the best way to move forward.

However, chair of trustees for the Phoenix, Alisdair Thornton, responded:

“I do not share your assertion that the ‘focus should not be on rehashing the past’ as I believe many valuable lessons can be learnt from this sad situation.

“The oft repeated assertion that the council would do everything it could to secure the future of this well-loved community asset, was rarely, if ever, backed up with any meaningful, practical help.

“What would have really assisted would have been a coordinated and concerted effort to actually help, but none was forthcoming.

“We did not expect the enmity or determination of the council’s efforts to halt our temporary training facility, culminating in a stop work order that cost us many thousands of pounds in spoiled concrete and contract delay fines for the temporary building.

“These costs, added to the prospect of being unable to generate income in the near to medium term, were the final nail in the coffin for Phoenix, but we were surprised that this nail was driven home with such ferocity by the very same council that insists it is ‘positive, constructive and focussed on helping the club’.”

“We have been squeezed out by developers and big business and whilst I believe the councillors are genuine in their regret at the fate of Phoenix, they have allowed it to happen.”

In response to this, Cllr Coppinger said:

“We very much regret the tone of this letter – all we as a borough are concerned about is helping the children that have been effected to find an alternative place to carry out their sport.

“The borough is not going to get into a ‘he-said, she-said’.”

He also rebutted the claim that The Phoenix was missed off of the recipient list of the open letter – saying that the borough sent it to them on Friday.

Update: The council has since apologised to The Phoenix for mistakenly failing to send the letter to the correct email address.

“I don’t agree with the views expressed, however I understand this is a really important issue for so many people locally and I appreciate the passion it invokes,” he said.

The battle for the Phoenix has been up and down for some time - with the gym facing closure then being saved by a substantial loan - only to face closure again over the planning disagreement.

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