THREE years after its looms fell silent, the former Lochcarron knitwear mill in Hawick’s Princes Street is set for a new lease of life as a gym and fitness centre.
Members of Scottish Borders Council planning committee, meeting on Monday, gave their consent to plans to transform the disused factory buildings.
Despite being for sale since 2009, there has been little interest from potential buyers in the vacant buildings and despite some concerns over increased noise and traffic nuisance for nearby residents, councillors gave their unanimous support to the proposals from Energie Scotland.
Energie is one of the fastest- growing fitness club franchise businesses in the UK and, despite the presence of two other gyms in Hawick, it says it is aiming at the middle ground between these two other existing fitness businesses, whilst establishing unique specialist facilities such as the youth gym.
The plan is to turn the bottom floor of the former main factory building into rooms for specialist classes, an office and toilets.
The first floor will be used for a supervised soft play area, specialist classes, toilets, office and equipment store.
The upper floor, which was where the manufacturing was once done, will be converted into the gym and fitness hall, an area for dance and aerobics classes and the youth gym.
There will also be a reception area, changing rooms, canteen and a general purpose hall, and the main entrance will be from the car park at the rear of the buildings.
The project has already received the blessing of the local community council, despite concerns of potential impact on the other fitness-orientated businesses in the town.
Key planning issues which officials considered included the potential for noise disturbance from music being played in the gym and during some fitness classes.
But councillors were minded to take into account that the premises could still be bought and used for industrial purposes which would generate a certain amount of noise.
Planning officials, who recommended that the application be approved, considered the scheme a viable one, conceded that there are limited opportunities for reuse of the building which would otherwise remain empty.
However, they say it will be important that safeguards are put in place to ensure that adjoining residents are not adversely affected, particularly by noise during the 7am until 10pm opening hours.
There have also been concerns that the estimate by the applicant that the facility would be used by between 30 and 50 vehicles a day is an underestimate.
Approving the application, members agreed with the recommendation to attach 10 conditions to the consent, including covering noise and details of proposed car parking.
The council’s environmental health officials say the land in question is not currently identified as being contaminated as a result of its use for a knitwear factory.
SBC development control manager John Hayward told committee members that demolition of the factory buildings in Princes Street was not a particularly desirable option and there was a concern the premises would remain vacant.
Local Scottish Borders councillor Alastair Cranston (Hawick & Denholm, SNP) said he was very much aware of the amount of sport that was enjoyed in the town.
“We’ve got six rugby clubs, five football clubs, judo, boxing, golf and three fitness clubs to name just some,” he said.
“Sport is a big issue in the town and I think this venture shows there is a need and demand in the town.
“We are always going on about encouraging as many people as possible to take part in sport and exercise, and this project will help do that.
“The fact that this building is presently not doing anything and this project will also create employment is a huge plus.”