Easton’s Empire Fighting Chance could have 38 affordable homes built at the site

A total of 38 affordable homes could be built on the basketball court of a boxing club in Easton.

Charity Empire Fighting Chance, on Lower Ashley Road, is seeking planning permission to build 38 affordable homes on its outdoor basketball court. The houses would be delivered by Sovereign Housing, with an indoor sports hall and an expansion of the existing gym also being part of the plans.

The proposals will be discussed by a Cabinet meeting this week as Bristol City Council is the freehold owner of the site in Easton and a restructure of the lease is required in order for the plans to be carried out.

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Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees is one of the ambassadors of Empire Fighting Chance, which was praised by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle during a visit in 2019. Empire Fighting Chance started after founders Jamie Sanigar and Martin Bisp saw two young men they knew dealing drugs in a park near the iconic boxing gym.

The council documents state: “The property currently comprises an outdoor basketball court and gyms, treatment rooms and administrative and staff offices (the Gym site) on a site of approximately 0.35 hectares.

“EFC now wishes to transform the outdoor basketball court into an indoor all-year sports and basketball court for its principal use in relation to its charitable purpose and including continued free use of that facility by its local school, Evergreen Primary School, as part of that expansion of its services it can offer for local people.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex visit the Empire Fighting Chance boxing club in Easton, Bristol. Photo by Dan Regan.

“EFC also requires future funding security to continue its charitable purpose. A proposed affordable housing development of the site will act as an enabler to achieve these aims.

“EFC has reached agreement with Sovereign Housing, a registered provider of social housing, with a view to Sovereign developing an affordable housing scheme of 38 new homes and the new indoor basketball court on the Basketball Court Site. The costs of building the affordable housing, the indoor basketball court, and a contribution towards the expansion of the existing Gym premises and new car park, will be paid for by Sovereign.”

The planning documents show 12 “social, affordable or intermediate” rent units would be built in the five-storey building, with the remaining 26 being “affordable home ownership”.

The property is let to Empire Fighting Chance (EFC), a charity, under the terms of a 25-year lease which commenced on October 2014, according to the documents, which say the lease was granted under its community asset transfer scheme. Under the terms of the lease, which has 18 years remaining, EFC pays the council a peppercorn rent only.

To enable the redevelopment, documents show the proposed plan is to split land into two leases where the Gym extends its lease to 35 years and provide 999 years lease to build affordable homes. The total value of land is £1,355,000.

The documents state that the project would be delivered within one of the most deprived communities in the city, delivering affordable housing and that the indoor basketball court would provide improved community facilities to better serve the community.

The planning application – which is pending consideration – has received more than 12 objects from residents, who raised concerns about parking and traffic, among others.

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A Baptist Mills Court resident wrote: “My sense is that this area is already hugely over populated and there is not the correct infrastructure for the people whom already live here, let alone for the people who might live in this further development.

“Doctors are over subscribed, class sizes in schools are too big, parking is almost impossible, the traffic is awful and there are no plans to increase the number of schools, doctors, teachers, parking spaces etc. There is no space for this development.”

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