Plans to shut down a popular Blackpool football centre and turn it into a toy store have been in the works for months, it has emerged.
There was outrage as junior teams were left in the lurch after it was revealed that the DW Soccer Centre, on Vicarage Lane, is to close in the New Year with five members of staff set to lose their jobs.
Parents and coaches criticised the lack of warning that meant they faced spending the festive period trying to make alternative training arrangements.
But planning documents show Smyths Toys, the firm widely expected to move into the unit, has long been eyeing up the move.
Despite this, the company claims it has no knowledge of any plans to open up in Blackpool and ignored The Gazette’s latest request for a comment.
Blackpool Council granted a request from Smyths for planning permission to turn the football centre into a ‘bulky goods retail shop’ earlier this month.
Plan submitted back in September say the move will create around 30 jobs in the resort.
A planning and retail statement submitted on behalf of the firm, which mistakenly described the unit as ‘vacant’, said: “Smyth’s Toys are expanding their operation across the UK and have a long-standing requirement for a store in Blackpool.”
But when The Gazette first contacted the company about the move, it denied all knowledge of the plans.
When it was pointed out that Smyths is currently recruiting a duty manager for its Blackpool store on its website, a spokesman replied: “We regret we have no prior knowledge for a store opening in Blackpool.”
The company did not respond to a further request for a comment on the planning application.
The Gazette has repeatedly contacted DW Sports Fitness, which runs the football centre, for a comment but received no reply.
Silence over closure angers sports clubs
It is not clear how long bosses at the DW Soccer Centre have known about the impending closure on January 3.
Staff at the facility say they only found out December 17, just a couple of weeks before they were due to lose their jobs.
The lack of notice has not gone down well with either staff or the junior football clubs that train at the centre during the winter months.
Coach Neil Owen said it left managers ‘scrambling’ to rearrange training schedules – and could have been avoided with better communication.
The planning application shows Smyths Toys have long been eyeing up a move into the building.
Yet it appears DW Sports Fitness, the Wigan-based company behind the football centre, was in no hurry to tell customers.
Disgruntled coaches said it was down to a ‘leak’ that meant they found out about the plans and it appears they would not otherwise have heard the news until after Christmas.