Espirit gymnastics club could be at risk due to land sale
Buy this photo » Esprit chairman Mark Hows at the site where the club wants to expand
A POPULAR and successful Swindon sports club fears its future could be in jeopardy if plans to build 150 homes next to it go ahead.
Esprit Gymnastics Club is based in a building at the former Headlands School, in Upper Stratton.
Staff at the club – in partnership with Statton Parish Council, Hannick Homes and British Gymnastics – have spent eight months preparing a £4m bid to take over the campus around the site.
The club has a 50-year lease for the building but not for the fields around it.
Swindon Council has been trying to sell the land for four years and in July put it out for open tender.
A meeting next Wednesday will look in more detail at the nine bids, which have been submitted to the council’s agents Colliers International.
The chairman of the gym club, Mark Hows, has appealed to residents to write to the authority to support their application, which would include 60 homes – compared to the potential 150 that planning permission would allow.
The club’s plan would also include open space which could be used by other sports club.
Mark said if another company took over the land it could put the much-loved club’s future in jeopardy, as it is positioned in the middle of the development.
“I’m not very optimistic,” he said. “If another bidder has put in a figure that far exceeds our financial package, the only way they could justify that is by building more houses, which is something we would really fight as more than 2,000 people use our service each week, most of them children.
“It is a very difficult site. To get lots of extra traffic could put people’s lives in danger.
“This could be a fantastic opportunity for Swindon and other sport users.
“We have only been running for four years and have already sent someone to the Olympics and we have three people going to the Commonwealth Games next year.”
He said retaining an open space in the largely-developed area would be a major bonus to the whole area.
A spokesman for the council said: “The council has a legal duty, which it can’t ignore, to get the best deal for any land which it is selling.
“Both Mr Hows and Stratton Parish Council have been kept fully up to date with the marketing process.
“And a long period was provided to give them every opportunity to put in a bid for the land.
“We are now waiting for a report from our agents about the bids that have come in.
“Once the bids have been evaluated, council officers will make a recommendation to councillors about the best way to proceed.”
OLYMPICS LED TO SURGE OF INTEREST
ESPRIT Gymnastics Club saw its numbers soar following Team GB’s success in the sport during the Olympics last year.
Back in August, it reported more than 100 people had got in touch overnight following the men’s artistic qualification.
And the following week, which saw Great Britain’s gymnasts Louis Smith, Max Whitlock and Beth Tweddle on the medal podium, the club received a further 200 emails, calls and inquiries from people wishing to take up the sport.
Speaking at the time, chairman Mark Hows said he was concerned as to how exactly the club would find space for the rising interest.
“It is fantastic, but quite where we are going to find over 200 spaces from I don’t know. They will have to go on our waiting list and over the next four to six months we will try to get people in,” he said.
“We were expecting to be inundated – it normally comes in September when the children go back to school that we get a big rush, but the Olympics was always going to have this effect.
“Hopefully it will make the local authority sit up and take notice. If you can get children involved at a young age they will stay fit and healthy for a longer time.
“If we can invest time in them at primary school age it will really make a difference.” ‘
'ESPIRIT'S PROPOSAL IS VERY SENSIBLE'
THE MP for North Swindon, Justin Tomlinson, is fully supporting Esprit’s attempt to develop the campus at the former Headlands School.
Mr Tomlinson said he had viewed Esprit Gymnastics Cub’s bid to retain most of the open space at the school while developing 60 homes, and said he thought the proposals looked very sensible.
Esprit has worked in partnership with Stratton Parish Council, local developer Hannick Homes and British Gymnastics, the sport’s governing body, to raise the cash for the project.
“I hope they get a fair hearing next week,” said Mr Tomlinson.
“Obviously they (the council) are duty bound to get value for money. Esprit are prepared to pay for the land and it is a very sensible proposal.”
Mr Tomlinson has been working with the group to help it prepare its bid and has used the club as an example of best practice to show other MPs across the country.
Since opening four years ago the club has gone from strength to strength, boasting members including Jade Faulkner, who took part in the 2012 Olympics and six gymnasts who secured a place at the British Championships in Stoke-on-Trent.
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