'Free parking is unfair'
THE entrepreneur boss of a 'social enterprise' gym has attacked a council for providing free car parking at a rival leisure centre.
Waterworld owner Mo Chaudry, below, is due to open his second M Club gym at the former Total Fitness premises in Trent Vale next month.
But he believes Newcastle's Borough Council's offer of free parking at its Jubilee2 centre – less than two miles away – will create an 'unlevel playing field'.
Mr Chaudry, who turned the former Esporta gym in Etruria into his first M Club in 2011, runs the businesses as community interest companies.
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A CIC is a form of social enterprise where all profits are reinvested back into the community.
Mr Chaudry believes the borough council should not be using 'underhand tactics' against a business of this type.
He said: "I understand the council is in a tough place financially, but can it really be right for them to use taxpayers' money to subsidise competition with us?
"I'm actually in favour of free parking for all shoppers in Newcastle, but this is just a blatant attempt to create an unlevel playing field. Why don't they offer free parking for shoppers so the retailers can benefit as well?"
Mr Chaudry bought the 65,000 sq ft Total Fitness premises after the gym closed down last March. He has invested £5 million into the centre, which will create 65 jobs.
Mr Chaudry added: "I accept M Club is a business, but it's been set up as a social enterprise with a charitable ethos and money being ploughed back in to help change lifestyles and improve health.
"Surely local authorities should be trying to support businesses as much as they can, not indulging in selective unfair competition."
At the start of January the borough council started offering Jubilee2 users two-and-a-half hours free parking at School Street car park five times a week.
School Street car park has capacity for 68 cars, whereas M Club has 350 free parking spaces for members.
Both facilities include fully-equipped gyms and swimming pools, but a peak membership at Jubilee2, right, costs around £10 a month less than at M Club.
Dave Adams, executive director for operational services at the borough council, said: "Jubilee2 has been a huge success since it opened 12 months ago and this state-of-the-art facility has attracted a large and loyal membership base.
"Over that period, some free parking has always been available to customers at certain times of the day and week. These most recent changes are in direct response to feedback our customers have given us as to how we can make it easier for them to maintain healthy lifestyles.
"As far as businesses in Newcastle are concerned, the council is very aware of its role and responsibilities. The council is currently putting forward a freeze on all car parking charges in Newcastle for the year ahead to try and stimulate visitor numbers."