A mixed martial arts club has apologised to Horsham District Council for opening a studio in Cowfold without first asking for planning permission.
The Horsham Mixed Martial Arts Academy has been running lessons out of a building at Capons Hill Farm for several months, offering classes in a range of disciplines.
At a meeting of the council’s planning committee, it applied for and received retrospective permission to do so.
Coach Simon Newell told the committee the academy had ‘naively’ listened to assurances from its landlord that no permission was needed.
He added: “These assurances have cost us dearly and created financial costs we were unprepared for. We are now attempting to put right that which we should have been aware of in the first instance.”
Concerns had been raised by some Cowfold residents that illegal cage fighting bouts were being held at the site, but Mr Newell assured the committee this was not the case.
He said: “We have no intention of using any caged areas. We are not the UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship]. This isn’t a cage fighting opportunity. That’s not a service we will be offering.
“The achievements of our students, and their competitive results, speak for themselves as will the parents and students who have joined our team.”
The academy’s website lists classes in jiu jitsu, judo, boxing and Thai boxing, with mixed martial arts classes only offered to experienced students.
Mr Newell was backed by former police officer Michael Colacicco, who told the committee he was the academy’s oldest member, joking: “As you can see, I’m no cage fighter.”
Mr Colacicco, whose son and grandson are also members, praised the academy’s classes for children as young as five, saying they taught discipline, respect and confidence and were character building.
He told the committee: “It’s a great asset to Horsham district, a great asset to Cowfold.”
Other speakers raised concerns about noise, light pollution and road safety, pointing out that there were no footpaths along part of Station Road, leading to Capons Hill Farm, no cycle paths and no public transport. meaning students would have to be driven to their classes.
There were also concerns about the size of the classes, the hours of business, and the condition of the site.
The planning committee approved the application.
Suggestions that a condition should be added banning cage fighting were not considered to be appropriate.
The committee was told: “We appreciate the concern raised by residents in the area but if illegal activities are taking place on the site, that’s a matter for the police.”