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Hollywood Bowl eyeing up Inverness for newest bowling alley

By Philip Murray

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The Sports Direct and Everlast site in the Eastfield Way retail park. Picture: Gary Anthony.
The Sports Direct and Everlast site in the Eastfield Way retail park. Picture: Gary Anthony.

Almost 50 jobs will be created when one of the UK's biggest bowling alley brands moves into Inverness, its proponents have claimed.

Applicant Hercules Unit Trust, which owns the building, lodged plans during the summer to turn the Sports Direct and Everlast Gym in Eastfield Way into a ten-pin bowling centre and indoor inflatable activity course, with bar, dining area and amusements.

The proposals proved controversial among gym members and staff, who argued the loss of the facilities would be devastating for their keep-fit community and to staff who would lose their jobs if the existing tenants left the site and were also reportedly unaware of the proposals before the application was made public.

Several letters of objection were lodged from concerned gym users expressing their disappointment at the potential loss of the existing facilities, arguing it provided a "lifeline service" for members. A council planner later acknowledged that their closure would be a loss for the local community, but added that there was no policy in place to protect against the plans. Such concerns are not usually deemed material planning matters when councils decide on an application.

Now, in fresh documents lodged as part of the ongoing application process, the Trust's agents have revealed that they hope their proposal will create almost 50 jobs – and have highlighted an "opportunity" for staff at the existing gym and shop to apply for the roles "if they wish to do so".

They have also revealed that the new tenant will be Hollywood Bowl, which runs 66 different sites across the UK, although currently none further north than the Central Belt. The inflatables facility will be run by Innoflate, which is also name-checked in the same document and operates six park sites in Scotland – including Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow.

The breakdown of the new jobs include "at least" 22 full-time equivalent posts in the ten-pin bowling centre, and "approximately 25" in relation to the new inflatable activity centre.

The agent added: "The applicant does not have information on the exact number of people employed in the existing use of the premises. There will be the opportunity for people employed at Everlast/Sports Direct to apply for jobs in the proposed ten-pin bowling centre and inflatable activity course if they wish to do so."

Defending the plan to move new tenants into an already occupied site in the Inverness Shopping Park, the Trust's agents said that existing vacant sites in the city centre, such as the former Debenhams outlet in the Eastgate Centre, were not suitable for the planned bowling alley and inflatable centre.

They also claimed that the decision to vacate the planned site was taken by Sports Direct and Everlast's owners, Frasers Group, after failing to come to a fresh deal over rent for the building.

The agent said: "Everlast Gym occupies the premises on a short-term concessionary lease that can be terminated by either the landlord (i.e. the applicant) or the tenant on one month’s notice. Following lengthy negotiations, in an attempt to agree market terms, Frasers Group made the applicant aware that they could not make the Everlast Gym and Sports Direct financially viable on the proposed terms and that they would therefore look to vacate the premises.

"In light of this situation, the applicant has explored alternative uses for the premises in order to secure the long-term viable use of this large unit. The planning application proposals will secure the long term active use of the existing building."

It is unknown if Sports Direct and Everlast are eyeing alternative premises in the city.

Hollywood Bowl currently runs four sites in Scotland – two in Glasgow, one in Dunfermline and another in Stirling.

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