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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

£350 to run in the park: Fitness trainers, nannies and teachers hit by fees by council who classifies it as a work place

By Steve Doughty and Colin Fernandez

Personal trainers, nannies, dog walkers and even teachers face hefty bills for using public parks under a town hall diktat.

Council chiefs have decided anyone using the open spaces for business must pay for the privilege.

Personal trainers, like Zibby Mucha, and football coaches have already been hit by the policy, devised by a West London authority. And it is likely to be copied by other councils.

The rules say that if anyone is making money by being in a park, they will be billed. That means that a paid nanny pushing a pram, a paid dog walker, or a nursery school teacher leading her charges through the local park could face bills of £350-£1,200 a year.

Mr Mucha, 35, who works in Hurlingham Park in Putney, South London, was exercising with a client when a park ranger told him he couldn’t operate without filling in a form.

Mr Mucha, who charges clients around £45 an hour, said the warden ‘asked if I had got the licence to be in the park’.

‘I was surprised and didn’t know what she was asking for. I rang the council and they told me it was £350 for 12 months.’

He added: ‘What I am doing is good for society and helps get people more healthy, but the council is trying to sabotage this.

‘What if I go for a run around the park with a client, are they going to chase us?’
Another personal trainer, Dave Smith, 48, of Stoke Newington, North London, said the cost of the charges would force him out of business.

Bringing me to my knees: Mr Mucha said his council were trying to sabotage the good work he does for society

Mr Smith, who charges £20 an hour and trains in ten different local authority areas could end up paying £3,500 a year.

‘It would be game over,’ he said. ‘The margins would be so low I’d be better off working in McDonald’s.’

The doctrine has been put into operation by the Tory-run borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. But Christine Melsom of the council tax protest group Is It Fair? said: ‘It is hard to believe this is serious.

Someone selling ice cream is doing business in a park. Someone there to help a client take exercise is not – that is a private agreement. How do you prove someone is a paid personal trainer?’

Michael Hainge, from the parks department, told councillors in September that although the council is anxious to use its green spaces to fight obesity, ‘efforts were being made to properly target the programmes and ensure they were not simply aimed at those who were already inclined towards exercise’.

He said parks suffered from ‘recurring activities that took place on a commercial basis, such as private football coaching, which needed to be identified and charged.’

The council said yesterday: ‘Anyone can use our parks for free, including personal trainers.

However, as soon as personal trainers start charging and making money out of the park, they are running a business and would need a licence.’



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