FORMER Dragon’s Den star and health club operator Duncan Bannatyne has backed calls to re-open gyms.

Mr Bannatyne, who owns a network of eponymous health and fitness centres, is calling for their reopening ahead of an expected debate on the topic in Parliament next week.

A petition to the Government calling for the reopening of gyms received more than 600,000 signatures, triggering a debate in the House of Commons, which is expected to take place on Monday.

Mr Bannatyne has written to MPs to propose an amendment to allow gyms to open if national lockdown is extended or strict local restrictions are brought in after December 2.

The closure of gyms in lockdown brought widespread dismay in Bradford regarding the impact on gymgoers’ physical and mental health and wellbeing, as well as for the finances of gym owners and staff.

Mr Bannatyne lists the importance for mental health, Britain’s obesity crisis, the extremely low transmission rates in gym settings, and the lengthy steps centres have gone to, sometimes at significant expense, to enable social distancing, as reasons why gyms should be open.

He said: “I have written to MPs to put the case for safe opening of gyms and health clubs based on irrefutable data and carefully developed and proven social distancing and hygiene procedures.

“On a personal basis I am opposed to the lockdown continuing and can see the logic in the approach advocated by some MPs, that areas with the most cases should face the most restrictions.

“If a national lockdown does continue or some areas are subjected to more severe restrictions, I hope some MPs might find it possible to suggest a compromise amendment to allow some facilities, including gyms, to re-open.

“This is important for the mental health of the nation, and to help people keep physically fit to fight the virus should they be unfortunate enough to contract it.

“I have also asked MPs to be fair and equitable to the health club sector, which has been mandated to close, to consider a VAT cut as has been extended to the hospitality industry, to help maintain the jobs of the nearly 200,000 people who work in our sector.

“I hope to receive a positive response to my points.”

Huw Edwards, chief executive of ukactive, which represents the interests of the health and fitness sector, added: “We recognise the challenging decisions the Government has to make during this pandemic but our evidence shows that closing the fitness and leisure sector will only serve to exacerbate health issues and inequalities in our communities.

“The Parliamentary petition is an example of how so many people are making their voices heard – millions of people of all ages across the UK are desperately missing going to the gym or their local leisure centre, particularly now that winter is here, and are hugely worried how this will impact their physical and mental health.

“Having proven their safety, gyms and leisure facilities should be classified as an essential service, and permitted to remain open in order to play their role in maintaining people’s physical and mental health in the face of this health crisis.

“We continue to urge the Government to ensure that our members receive the tailored financial and regulatory support required for their survival and recovery at this time.”