Planning application mentioning ‘local alcoholics’ prompts ‘uproar’ in Hoylake

A Wirral town is in “uproar” after comments were made about “local alcoholics” using a bench outside a former library building.

The row has arisen after a planning application was submitted, aiming to turn the former Hoylake Library on Market Street into a new gym.

The plans were submitted by Peter and Jennifer Hackett. Reports associated with the plans suggested the applicant wanted two trees and a bench outside the building removed.

A planning statement which outlined the plans said while their removal wasn’t necessary, “the popularity of the bench with local alcoholics is not a good fit with the applicants’ business model.” Mr and Mrs Hackett said they were not behind the comments in the report or aware of them.

A proposed layout of the site as part of the application also said “street trees and bench to be relocated” following consultation with Wirral Council.

But the plans have been met with a petition, signed by hundreds of local people, against the trees and bench being removed and it’s understood the planning application has now been updated to remove any reference to this.

Mrs Hackett hopes to set up a new health and well-being gym called NOMAD within the former library, a building which dates back to the 1960s and closed in 2022. If approved, the centre will include a gymnasium, new changing rooms, wheelchair access, and changes to the car park.

It hopes to “offer a destination for people throughout the Wirral” with “a unique blend of physical and mental well-being currently not catered for in the Merseyside area” that is “attractive to everybody including professionals, students, children and local residents”.

The applicants behind NOMAD have now distanced themselves from the comments, apologising for the offence, claiming they had not had the opportunity to read the report before it was submitted.

A petition calling for the application to come to Wirral Council’s planning committee now has nearly 1,500 signatures after two days. The petition was started by Hoylake resident Jane Turner, the chair of Wirral’s Green Party.

She said several people had contacted her about it, adding, “It was bad enough that the people of Hoylake have lost access to their library. They were then threatened with losing some of the few street trees in the area and an important space for relaxation.

“This was unacceptable. Any planning permission granted should ensure that the public realm is enhanced, not further degraded. I am pleased to hear that the applicants do not agree with the part of their own application that caused the uproar and look forward to it being removed. I wish them every success in their business.”

However, the petition has drawn criticism from Hoylake’s Conservative councillors who have asked people to “now move on”.

On Facebook, they claimed it was never intended for the trees and the bench to be removed, adding, “This is a business looking to invest and open up in Hoylake, something that sounds like a great venture.”

Cllr Andrew Gardner said, “This is another attempt to gaslight the people of Hoylake by the Green Party. The trees are not part of the application nor are they on the land of the application. No one wants to lose trees and these trees will remain I’m sure.

“The petition needs to be taken down. We welcome investment to Hoylake and this Green Party initiated internet pile on of the applicant shows the Greens are not fit to represent people in Hoylake. Hoylake ward councillors will be making representations to the Green Party leaders.”

Following changes being made to the application, Dr Turner said she would stop the petition, thanking NOMAD “for being so quick to respond to public concerns,” adding, “It will be great to see the building being used again.”

Philip Barton, the independent planning consultant who wrote the report, said, “The wording of this statement is due to a misinterpretation of the instructions I received from my client, who is in fact happy for the bench and trees to remain in place,” adding, “Although I have personally witnessed street drinkers using this bench, I accept that my choice of words could have been more judicious and I apologise for any offence caused.”

Jennifer Hackett, who lives in Wirral, told the LDRS the wording was not at their request and was “in no way a reflection of what we believe”. She apologised “for any confusion this planning application has caused,” adding they would not be removing the trees and planned to restore the bench to “give it some TLC”.

She said, “The concept of Nomad is built on connection and we want to create a facility where everyone can connect with each other as well as their own mind, body and soul. We really are trying to create a harmonic place that will help the community with their physical and mental wellbeing,” adding, “Once again, we apologise for any offence caused and would hope that moving forward, you can all see the good things we want to deliver to the community.”

When asked why she hadn’t read the planning application before it was submitted, Mrs Hackett said, “We have used this planning consultant before when considering another space on the Wirral and had seen that full planning application but he’s added that into this new application without our permission.

“However, when you employ a professional to take care of something so intricate, you do expect for this to be done correctly.”

People can give their thoughts on the application until 16 May, 2024.

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