Personal trainers red in the face over new council outdoor fitness permit scheme in Wyre
Personal trainers voiced their confusion and anger after Wyre Council introduced a new permit scheme to allow them to train clients outdoors - and on the beach.
The move was branded "poor timing," as fitness instructors and personal trainers (PTs) across the borough were told on Monday - the same day gyms reopened - that they now need a permit to train clients on council-owned land, "including the beach."
During the Covid lockdown, the only source of income for many of the Fylde coast's self-employed PTs came from training their clients outdoors, in the borough's open spaces or on its beaches in Cleveleys, Fleetwood or Knott End.
Initially, it was announced permits would cost £25 a year, but the council U-turned on that decision less than 24 hours later, instead offering a "free trial" of the permit scheme, with a "small admin fee" to be brought in if it was successful.
PTs were still required to have a permit to continue working outside, however, leaving them with little choice but to sign up to allow them to continue earning money from classes.
Gyms reopened on Monday, but indoor classes are still banned until May 17 under the Government's roadmap out of lockdown.
Mikey Moon, co-owner of Fortitude Fitness in Beacon Road, Poulton, said his team of 10 PTs were "demoralised" by the new scheme.
"I just think it's poor timing really," he said.
"I get that there should, or could, be a fee for the council to maintain these areas, however I think that after the year the fitness industry has had it maybe could have been waived to next year.
"We've been shut for eight months, and our PTs have been out in wind and rain doing boot camps or training outside.
"It's not about the money, it's not going to bankrupt anyone, but these PTs are self-employed and haven't had any help. I've been lucky because I own the gym, I've had help from the council.
"I just think it's taking advantage of a situation where somebody had to go out to save their business, and now they're going to be charged for it.
"It feels like a bit of a slap in the face."
Josh Few, 28, has been a self-employed personal trainer for six years, and currently works from GymEtc in Garstang Road East, Poulton.
Mr Few trained his clients outdoors when GymEtc had to close during lockdown, and regularly used Cottam Hall Playing Fields, one of the sites affected by the new permit scheme.
He explained why he also disagreed with it.
"I strongly disagree with it, I trained my clients outdoors when the gym was shut because normally I'd be working six days a week there," Josh said.
"I don't see why it's come in now, it's strange that they're trying to charge us for being outdoors all of a sudden.
"If I'd needed a permit during lockdown I would have had no choice but to get one, because I wouldn't have been able to earn any money otherwise."
Wyre Council compiled a list of land in the borough which would now require a permit for fitness professionals to work on.
The land included parks and open spaces in Poulton, Cleveleys, Garstang, Thornton, and Fleetwood - and "included beaches."
The Gazette asked Wyre Council why permits were being introduced, which councillors had decided to implement it, and which beaches specifically would be affected by the scheme.
The council was also asked how the permits would be policed, and what the consequences would be for instructors who continued training without a permit - but it did not provide a response.
The scheme also came as a surprise to Adam Diver from Fleetwood, leader of Wyre party Wyre Alliance.
Mr Diver said he had "no idea" the scheme would be implemented until it was reported by the Gazette, and felt it was "adding another barrier" for PTs and residents who want to look after their health and wellbeing.
"I think it's quite frustrating and sad, to be honest," he said.
"This doesn't just affect adults, there are young kids who have been continuing their classes outdoors on the Mount in Fleetwood.
"I'd love to see 20 kids running up and down the Mount in some sort of structured fitness session, and it encourages others who see it to get involved as well.
"Kids have been doing land sessions outside because they've not been able to get into the swimming pool during lockdown - would we be able to do that again with the numbers? Probably not, because of the caveat they've put in place.
"For me, this is just really negative. I've spoken to a few PTs about it and they're all really angry."
Coun Colette Fairbanks, who represents Fleetwood's Pharos ward with Wyre Alliance, also said she would be "one councillor fighting this decision."
The scheme was met with anger by hundreds of other residents, many of whom related it to "greed."
Mel Bamber said: "It's out of order - the people who run these sessions and those who take part are already paying council tax to Wyre Council for the use of these areas."
And Kristy MacShea added: "We should be making it easier for people to access fitness to address the wider obesity issue, which consequently hits the pockets of our NHS and further strains our already overwhelmed health services. Short sighted and sheer greed."
But some residents agreed to an extent with the new scheme.
Ian Holland said: "I kind of agree with it. Especially using council owned playing fields and parks. Sports clubs like grassroots football teams already pay the council a substantial amount to use these for training and matches and they are non profit organisations.
"So why should some costs not be given to businesses or companies that are making a profit? And at £25 per year that's nothing.
"Sure beats the rent some businesses pay to trade. I don't however agree with having to pay to use the beach. That is an outrage."
Wyre Council is the first local authority in the Fylde coast to introduce the scheme, with Blackpool and Fylde remaining permit-free.
A spokesman for Blackpool Council said: "We don't currently have anything in place. We do ask anyone wanting to run commercial activities (including PT or fitness training) on council land to contact the parks team for permission, because without this their insurance is invalid.
"However, there is not currently a charge."
Anchorsholme councillor Paul Galley added: "[They] are welcome to come to Anchorsholme beach and park, and to East Pines Park as well. We would love to have any groups that want to help people keep fit or get into sports."
Meanwhile, Fylde Council said fitness professionals were welcome to continue using council-owned land responsibly.
A council spokesman said: "There are currently no plans to implement a permit scheme here in Fylde, we appreciate that the outdoor classes encourage our residents to get fit.
"If there were any complaints regarding noise etc, however, we would investigate."
The permit scheme is being piloted in Wyre to promote health and wellbeing opportunities for the borough's residents in parks and open spaces, the council said.
It continued: "The permit is designed to promote and help us to better manage our open spaces which are available for people to use and enables high quality sessions to take place regularly in a particular venue and time.
"It helps to avoid clashes with local sports teams who have booked our venues or with local events that will start now to take place. The permit ensures trainers and instructors have the right risk assessments, insurance etc and to make sure everyone gets a fair chance to use a space.
"The scheme is a trial, which officers will evaluate over the next six months and then the intention is to report back to councillors with the findings before a decision is made.
"We also plan to do some consultation as part of the trial to help inform the evaluation. The small fee will be an admin fee and this is not a profit generating scheme, it’s more about managing the spaces to give the best possible experience for people who want to take part in these activity sessions."
Permits apply to the following sites:
Cottam Hall playing field (Exceptions: not the fenced Poulton Town FC football pitch, or the marked pitch areas on a Saturday or Sunday or evenings from 5-9pm as these will be booked by sports clubs. Not the cricket square while in season)
Jean Stansfield and Vicarage Park
Civic Centre playing field (Exceptions: not the marked pitch areas on a Saturday or Sunday or evenings from 5-9pm)
Thornton and Cleveleys
Bourne Way playing field
Church Road playing field
King Georges playing field (Exceptions: not the marked pitch areas on a Saturday or Sunday or evenings from 5-9pm as these will be booked by sports clubs)
North Drive Park
Memorial Park – do not use area around Cenotaph
Marine Hall Gardens – do not use bowling green
King George V playing field (Exceptions: not the marked pitch areas on a Saturday or Sunday or evenings from 5-9pm as these will be booked by sports clubs)
Derbyshire Road open space, Garstang
Canterbury Avenue open space, Garstang