Woking judo club faces uncertain future after green belt planning permission refused

A judo club run by a Commonwealth Games gold medalist and her husband - himself awarded Woking Borough Council's "oldest and most prestigious sports accolade in the borough" - could face closure after plans for a new dojo were denied.

The potential closure of another club in the borough comes after the planning committee refused permission to turn an empty site into new training centre because it was concerned it would prove too popular and result in over use of the surrounding green belt land.

The application was put in by Fighting Fitness UK. It had been set to be automatically refused by planners but was called to committee by former Councillor Steve Dorsett on the basis that, with no external redevelopment to either the building or parking, it would not “further erode" green belt.

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The committee however disagreed and sided with the recommendations to refuse on the grounds that the area, near a site of special scientific interest, would become overcrowded with parents and club members. The plans sought to change usage of the site in Smarts Heath Road, Woking, from an existing commercial unit into an indoor fitness club and studio. However planners consider indoor dojos and gyms to be more suited to town centres than rural outskirts.

Speaking on behalf of the dojo was Vince Skillcorn, who has run the club with his wife, Commonwealth Games gold medallist Sam Skillcorn, since 2015. He said: “The application proposal will allow us to keep the Woking club going and create a world class judo facility for the Woking community. We are surprised that the proposal would create such concern.”

He told the meeting on Tuesday, June 4 there would be no extension of the existing site nor any expansion of the existing hardstanding, already used for parking. He said: “Classes have limited numbers and some members car pool further reducing traffic.”

The proposals attracted 62 letters, with 51 in favour. People living nearby though, warned against changing the isolated rural building to a “main town centre leisure use” and that there were other areas in the borough more suited to a sports company.

The club, he said, had been “extensively” searching for new premises since 2021, including industrial units in town centre spaces, to no avail. He added “Without a suitable venue we face the potential closure of our Woking facility which would be a significant loss to the community. This application is crucial for us to continue providing employment supporting local charities and offering life-changing classes.”

Mr Skillcorn was given the Trotman Trophy by Woking Borough Council in 2021 when the local authority described him as a “deserved winner". The trophy, introduced in 1971 in memory of the Sports Council chairman, is the oldest and most prestigious sports accolade in the borough. Mr Skillcorn was given the award for growing the Fighting Fitness Judo club, securing a permanent base within the borough, and for the number of members competing at the highest levels of the sport.

Councillors declined the option of debating the decision and instead moved straight to the vote where they sided with the council officers recommendations to refuse.

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