A personal trainer whose planning permission was overturned on appeal is petitioning to have her approval for using a shed for private fitness sessions reinstated.
Christine Barker, of Baldrine, was using the shed in her back garden for one to one sessions with women until Environment Minister Geoffrey Boot agreed with the recommendation of an off-island planning inspector to overturn that decision.
The application (20/00770/C) was for Christine to use the shed for one to one personal training sessions. Initially the planning officer recommended it be refused by the planning committee. However the committee went against this and unanimously agreed to approve the application. It had heard that the operating hours would be limited to 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, Saturday mornings and limited to one client at a time, with up to a maximum of five clients a day. Many of the clients are also near neighbours of Christine so walk to her property.
In the minutes for that meeting, the committee is said to have approved the application because it complied with business policies by ‘supporting the opportunity of healthy, active, lifestyles’. The inspector’s report also notes that she was ‘applauded’ by the committee for establishing her own business and for highlighting the importance of of health and fitness ‘at a time when the mental wellbeing of people was such a huge issue’,
Neither Garff commissioners nor her neighbour attended this hearing to oppose the application.
Christine said that of the few clients she does see, many of them do not feel comfortable in normal gyms due to body insecurities or social anxiety, or have young children who they are unable to take with them to the gym, so her one-to-one sessions helped them to seek to lead a healthier lifestyle in a safe environment.
Despite this approval, Garff Commissioners appealed the decision citing ‘the detrimental effect caused by the operation of the proposed business on the amenity of neighbouring residents, highway/road safety issues etc’.
That appeal was heard by Michael Hurley, who was not able to visit the island due to the border restrictions. Mr Hurley’s report makes a number of incorrect observations, such as saying Christine had planned to run the classes from 8am to 10pm, despite her application stating it would be from 8am to 8pm and also ignored the evidence that it would be for a maximum of five cases a day.
Christine said that Garff commissioners were asked at this hearing about not visiting the site and said they ‘had looked from the front of the property’. However, the shed isn’t at all visible from the front of the property.
In favour of the appeal, Mr Hurley noted that complaints had been made by ‘several’ neighbours and that the shed/summerhouse is ‘light-weight timber building, and is not well soundproofed’. He also stated that the road which is used to access Clay Head Road, which feeds onto the road Christine lives, ‘does not meet current standards for a residential road and the junction with the A9 [Onchan to Laxey] is substandard’.
Mr Hurley added: ‘The continued use of the appeal premises as a commercial gym would inevitably cause additional traffic to use Clay Head Road.’ He also references Highway Services’ objection that approval would have a ‘potential adverse impact on the road safety and network efficiency resulting from inadequate and unsuitable on-site parking’.
However Mr Hurley goes on to say that the Highways said the ‘number of vehicle movements generated from one-to-one tuition would be insignificant in traffic terms’.
As well as the Commissioners, Mr Hurley heard the objections of David and Selena Jones who live next to Christine. Their evidence described the noise from the shed as ‘intolerable’ and said their doctor is ‘of the opinion that their health would be severely adversely affected’ if the one-to-one sessions were to continue. The Jones’ also claimed there had been a ‘substantial’ increase in traffic since Christine had been running her sessions from her home. Despite evidence that on average two cars a day visit the property.
The Planning Committee
Mr Hurley’s report also referred to the decision of the planning committee and their reasons for supporting the application. These included supporting growing businesses, the positive impact of recreational activities, that there actually is ‘sufficient’ parking and that they said that with sound proofing, which Christine had offered to install, ‘noise from the exercise classes would cause minimal disturbance to neighbours’.
He added: ‘On balance the Committee concluded that the health and economic benefits of this development outweighed any objection, and granted retrospective planning approval. However, there would be no objection to the imposition of an additional condition limiting the use of the gym to a maximum of five exercise sessions a day, with each session not exceeding 50 minutes duration, to reflect the terms of the planning application.’
Other nearby residents who had been granted interested persons status, had not raised objections to the continued use of the shed as a one-to-one gym, with some of them even being clients of Christine.
Concluding, Mr Hurley said: ‘I recommend that the appeal be allowed and that retrospective planning approval be refused for the use of the summerhouse within the garden of ‘Stoneycroft’, Clay Head Close, Baldrine, as a gym for one-to-one exercise classes, for the following reasons:
‘The continued use of the summerhouse as a commercial gym would be likely to detract from the amenity enjoyed by neighbouring residents by virtue of noise, contrary to Environment Policy 22 of the Isle of Man Strategic Plan 2016. The continued use of the summerhouse as a commercial gym would be likely to generate on-street parking in the vicinity of the appeal premises, thereby impeding the safe and convenient movement of traffic, contrary to Transport Policy 4 of the Isle of Man Strategic Plan 2016.’
In term, Mr Boot, who as DEFA Minister has the final say on planning, agreed with Mr Hurley and overturned the planning committee’s decision.
Not to see her livelihood and work go to waste, Christine has begun a petition calling on the Commissioner to remove their objections and for Mr Boot to reverse his decision to grant the appeal.
Speaking to Gef, Christine said: ‘I wanted to see if people would give a little lee-way as when the representative for the commissioners came to visit the site (after the hearing) I was told it was a great thing I was doing and I should be very proud of what I had achieved and that if they had come to see it they may of not appealed it, I just wanted to look at it again. I even asked Mr Boot to come and see it, because I think seeing it does put it into perspective, but as of yet I am still awaiting a reply.’
Her petition, which can be found here, has been signed by over 450 people since it began. Included in those signatures are people who had trained with Christine, who highlighted how she has helped with their physical and mental health, others who wanted to see changes made to the planning system and even rival business owners who praised her for finding a new way of working after the Covid lockdowns.