Agenda item

Planning Application DC/21/0427/FUL - Sports Direct Fitness, Easlea Road, Bury St Edmunds (Report No: DEV/WS/22/049)

Report No: DEV/WS/22/049


Planning application - change of use from gym (class E) to retail (class E commercial, business and service)


(Councillor John Burns declared, in the interests of openness and transparency, that he was a shareholder of a gym in Haverhill. However, it did not have any members from Bury St Edmunds and would not influence his ability to keep an open mind on the item.)


Planning application - change of use from gym (class E) to retail (class E commercial, business and service)


This planning application was referred to the Development Control Committee as it proposed ‘major’ development and Bury St Edmunds Town Council had objected, as had Bury St Edmunds BID.


In addition, the consideration of the merits of the application involved complex policy matters relating to retail, employment and community/leisure facilities.


The Principal Planning Officer advised the Committee that since the agenda papers were published a further 33 late representations had been received objecting to the proposal; these largely covered matters previously raised by objectors which were briefly summarised to the meeting.


Furthermore, Councillor Birgitte Mager (one of the Ward Members for Moreton Hall) had emailed some Members of the Committee objecting to the application. This was read out in full so that those Members who had not received it were aware of the content.


As part of her presentation to the meeting the Principal Planning Officer explained that the Council had a duty to determine planning applications submitted to them and could only assess the proposed change of use in planning terms. Theoretically, the existing facility was a commercial operation and could cease operation irrespective of this application and the Council would have no influence on this.


Officers were recommending that the application be approved, subject to a S106 Agreement and conditions as set out in Paragraph 72 of Report No DEV/WS/22/049, subject to an amendment to the wording of condition 1 and with an additional condition in relation to the Gross Internal Area.


Speakers:    Melanie Soanes (member of Sports Direct Fitness, speaking on behalf of herself and fellow members) spoke against the application

                   Michael Crichton (member of Sports Direct Fitness, speaking on behalf of himself and fellow members) spoke against the application

                   Councillor Trevor Beckwith (Ward Member: Moreton Hall) spoke against the application

                   (Councillor Beckwith was not in attendance to personally address the Committee and, instead, the Democratic Services Officer read out a pre-prepared statement on his behalf.)


During the debate a number of Members voiced concern at the loss of a well-used sports facility, particularly in light of the importance of supporting healthy communities.


Councillor John Burns raised specific reservations with the independent retail assessment that had been submitted, in light of it having been carried out 18 months ago. Officers referred Members to the numerous working papers which set out the chronology of the retail impact assessment since the application was submitted, culminating in more recent comments from the Council’s retail consultant earlier this year.


Councillor Nick Clarke highlighted the fact that the premises was not a purpose-built facility and had previously had retail uses.


Councillor Peter Stevens questioned why planning restrictions had been placed on the premises in relation to its defined use and the Service Manager (Planning – Development) gave an explanation as to the reasoning.


During the debate a note was passed to the Chair from a member of the public, the Chair asked the Lawyer to advise the Committee of the content, which drew attention to the fact that the applicant was not Sports Direct Fitness (who was a tenant of the building) but the owner of the premises.


The Service Manager (Planning – Development) explained that the identity of the applicant was not a material consideration and that the Planning Authority was duty bound to determine the application on the basis of planning merits and material considerations.


Councillor David Nettleton disagreed with the comments made by Bury St Edmunds BID and spoke on the strength of the town centre retail offer. He therefore proposed that the application be approved, as per the Officer recommendation. This was duly seconded by Councillor Ian Houlder.


Upon being put to the vote and with 6 voting for the motion, 8 against and with 1 abstention the Chair declared the motion lost.


Councillor Carol Bull then proposed that the application be refused, contrary to the Officer recommendation, due to the loss of a leisure facility and therefore contrary to Policy DM42. This was duly seconded by Councillor Andy Neal.


The Service Manager (Planning – Development) confirmed that the Decision Making Protocol would be invoked and the motion would be ‘minded to’ and subject to the production of a Risk Assessment for future consideration by the Committee.


Upon being put to the vote and with 9 voting for the motion, 5 against and with 1 abstention it was resolved that




Members be MINDED TO REFUSE THE APPLICATION, CONTRARY TO THE OFFICER RECOMMENDATION, due to the conflict with Policy DM42 and the loss of a leisure facility. A Risk Assessment would therefore be produced for consideration by the Committee at a future meeting.

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