East Wittering gym can continue 'changing lives' after retrospective plans are approved

Retrospective planning permission has been given for the change of use of a business unit to a gym in East Wittering.

Independent health and fitness club Witterings Fitness, based in Hilton Park, began operating as outdoor fitness classes in June 2017 'as a benefit for a local company on the estate'.

Owner and head coach Ben Price (second, left) and coach Toby Megeney (right) taking a training session. Photo: Kate Shemilt ks190554-3

Owner and head coach Ben Price (second, left) and coach Toby Megeney (right) taking a training session. Photo: Kate Shemilt ks190554-3

In November 2018, the gym was moved into Unit J, owned by the same company, to 'benefit the whole community and other companies on the estate'.

Director and founder Ben Price, an ex-military serviceman and corporal in the British Army, requested retrospective planning permission for the change of use (19/00934/FUL).

The application was approved by the Chichester District Council planning committee yesterday (Wednesday) with nine councillors voting in favour and one abstaining, despite concerns from councillors that it would go against policy and set a dangerous precedent for other businesses. It was judged that, due to the benefits it gives the community business, it should be approved.

Speaking during the meeting, Mr Price said: "We specialise in rehabilitation, personal coaching and we've had some really awesome success.

Ben Price, owner and head coach, centre, with coaches, Hayden Scott, left, and Toby Megeney. Photo: Kate Shemilt ks190554-1

Ben Price, owner and head coach, centre, with coaches, Hayden Scott, left, and Toby Megeney. Photo: Kate Shemilt ks190554-1

"It is really inclusive. We have 86-year-old Eddie who has now learned to walk again which has affected his life massively. We just started a training a 30-stone obese gentleman who has been to loads of other clubs but never felt comfortable or accepted. He had never been back to any club twice before us. [Being here] will drastically improve his life.

"Our mission is to inspire the Witterings to be the healthiest place in the UK. We are engaged with the local government and health providers to make that happen."

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Owner and head coach, Ben Price, right, helping a gym member. Photo: Kate Shemilt ks190554-2

Owner and head coach, Ben Price, right, helping a gym member. Photo: Kate Shemilt ks190554-2

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According to the design and access statement, the total cost of the change of use, which was completed in November, has been 'in the region of £25,000'.

Resident Trevor Bennett raised concerns over the change of use plans. He said: "This is much more than just a planning application but a complete change of policy.

"It is said that the business has 50 members and this unit only has nine car parking spaces. I cannot believe that all members will walk or arrive by bicycle. Those coming by car would have to park in the road or on other people's properties."

Responding to these concerns in his statement, Mr Price added: "The 50 members we have don't all arrive at the same time - they are spread out throughout the week and a lot of them do cycle in."

Supporting the application, member Marcus Green said Witterings Fitness 'has changed my life'.

"A year ago, I was overweight and struggling with business and family relationships," he said.

"On January 3 this year, I walked into Ben's gym and, nine months later, I am in the best physical shape of my life. It has transformed me.

"Ben and his team genuinely care about the health and well-being of the community. Over the years, I have been a member of many chain, traditional gyms and none of those places helped me make that transformation.

"It is a small business in the community that works to help create a community spirit with like-minded people who want to improve their health and fitness."

The agreed hours of operation have been listed as between 6.15am and 7.45pm. In the application, Mr Price said the busiest classes are 'outside of main working hours of the estate', generating 'no local issues with increasing traffic'.

Mr Price added that music is 'generally kept to a minimum' during working hours, and that high quality rubber flooring and weight equipment has been 'invested in to reduce noise'.