Skinnypigs refused planning permission for Washington fitness centre which is already operating

A fitness centre in Washington has lost a bid for planning permission over claims it could create a “nightmare” for neighbours.

Friday, 29th November 2019, 11:45 am
Updated Friday, 29th November 2019, 11:55 am
Skinnypigs Fitness Ltd, Washington

Skinnypigs Fitness Ltd currently operates from a former office building on Waterloo Road and offers a range of classes throughout the week.

In June, the firm submitted a retrospective planning application to Sunderland City Council to register the building as a ‘fitness centre’.

Following complaints about double parking, traffic disruption and loud music, the application was called before planning bosses.

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Although applicants said they were willing to work with the council to address concerns, the application sparked resistance from ward councillors.

“I ask you that you support the residents of the area who have already put up with much more than they should have or would have been expected to,” Washington North councillor, Jill Fletcher, said.

“To grant a change of use will make this area a nightmare for residents and the area as a whole due to the lack of thought shown to the residents and the parking concerns.

“I’m aware that no matter how much the planning department have tried to work with this company, they have just kept kicking the can down the road and have continued to operate in the very same way at a cost to local residents.”

Coun Fletcher was speaking at a meeting of Sunderland City Council’s area development control sub-committee on Tuesday November 26.

She told planners residents suffered from “inconsiderate parking” and raised fears about near misses and access problems for emergency services.

Planning officers, recommending the plans for refusal, noted parking “overspill” on Gayton Road and Waterloo Road was “to the detriment of highway safety.”

Other reasons for refusal included a lack of evidence to ensure the noise from the site would not cause disruption and the lack of a “sequential assessment.”

This test requires the applicant to prove there are no alternative town or district centre sites available for a fitness centre use.

Social media and marketing manager for the company, Abbi Hutchinson, defended the plans at the Sunderland Civic Centre and said the business had “rectified issues”.

On noise, this included closing doors and shutters when classes are running and keeping music to a minimum level.

Councillors also heard the centre had its own private car park with customers encouraged to avoid double parking before each class.

Abbi Hutchinson, also a fitness instructor, said: “The classes bring a real sense of community, we have a lot of women coming and it helps tackle obesity and improves the mental health of attendees.

“We really feel like we’re part of the community and spend a lot of time there with staff and we would like to work with them.

“We can only apologise for the delay in cooperating with yourselves only due to a change of staff that have now left the company.

“There was a miscommunication there and we would be more than happy going forward to work with whoever we need to see to address it and for people to come and monitor it.”

The speaker also challenged the claim that on-street parking was linked to the fitness centre, noting there were other businesses on the street.

Although the fitness centre had commissioned reports requested by the council, planners said the results would not be available until next year.

Coun Michael Dixon queried whether the sub-committee should wait for the completed reports before making a decision.

But planning officers stressed the fitness centre was already in use with identified “harm” to residential amenity.

Councillors were told they had to decide whether putting the plans on hold would outweigh the risks from the fitness centre continuing to operate.

Following discussion, the plans were rejected by a majority vote.

Skinnypigs Fitness Ltd claims to be the largest group fitness class in the North East.

According to its website, the company offers more than 350 classes a week across the Newcastle, Sunderland, South Tyneside, Durham, Middlesbrough and Stockton areas.