RESIDENTS have claimed a scheme to demolish former police cells and build a new base for a dance school could create gridlock in a town centre.

Thirsk-based Butterfly School of Dance, which provides lessons for more than 450 students in hired halls in the town, Ripon, Bedale, Northallerton and Easingwold, is applying for planning permission for a one and two-storey building behind Rural Arts, on Westgate, Thirsk.

The school, which was launched in 1999 with lessons in Pickhill, near Thirsk, says the increasing popularity of its lessons has seen it outgrow both Thirsk and Sowerby Town Hall and Sowerby Parochial Hall, which are also unavailable at suitable times for classes.

Planning agents for the school’s owner, Hannah Tweddle, said: “The School of Dance requires new premises to use as a studio to support the expansion in student numbers and to enable several opportunities in dance and fitness to be capitalised upon.”

The agents said the business,which employs nine staff, needed a purpose-built centre within walking distance of schools to improve on the facilities and access it has at its base in Castlegate.

Its blueprint for the Westgate site, which the school said has previously had consent for demolition and replacement for a similar scheme, includes dance studios, a dancewear shop, an office and spaces to provide physiotherapy, ante-natal and over-50s classes.

At a meeting of Sowerby Parish Council, residents raised concerns over the school’s aim to open the centre from 9am to 10pm on weekdays and 9am to 6pm at weekends, the lack of parking spaces for the centre, and the proposed drop-off area being beside the Rural Arts fire exit.

In letters objecting to the application, residents Roger Bibby and Paul Baily said traffic congestion on Westgate would be exacerbated by parents dropping off children at the centre.

Mr Baily wrote: “When the large new housing development (Sowerby Gateway) is complete, there is likely to be a large increase in traffic around the mini roundabout. There is a possibility of gridlock at busy times.”

Other neighbours have claimed the centre would lead to intolerable noise and light pollution and an extra 182,000 traffic movements past their home a year.

A spokesman for the charity Rural Arts said the traffic, parking and safety issues resulting from the scheme would seriously affect its operations.

Councillor Mark Robson told the meeting: “There will be a significant impact if this goes ahead.

“I would agree with the concerns of the residents about the reasons for refusal.”

Councillor Bill Austin, the parish council’s chairman, said while the authority wanted the business to flourish, it had to recommend the application be refused by Hambleton District Council due to the issues relating to the proposed location.

The district council’s planning committee is expected to consider the proposal next month.