NEW unisex changing facilities at a Teignbridge leisure centre could put women and girls at risk, it has been claimed.

Teignbridge Council plans to spend £3.7million doing up the tired Broadmeadow Centre at Teignmouth, slashing its carbon emissions and giving it a new frontage and reception area, studio spaces, changing facilities and a bigger gym.

While some small single-sex changing rooms will be retained, there will be large ‘village-style’ unisex changing areas with individual lockable shower cubicles.

Supporters say they are more flexible and better for families and people who need carers, but opponents say trans women, older women and those of Muslim, Hindu and Orthodox Jewish faiths will be discouraged from using the leisure centre, and some will feel intimidated.

Cllr Andrew MacGregor (South Devon Alliance Independent, Bishopsteignton) told a meeting of the Teignbridge executive committee: ‘I don’t believe these plans are inclusive or progressive. 

‘They represent a step backwards for women and girls, whose right to have single-sex spaces is hard-won.’

He said he felt the revamp plans had been dealt with too quickly by the council last year to make sure it did not miss out on £300,000 in external funding.

He added: ‘I don’t believe this council has taken enough care to examine all the impacts that may occur.’

He cited a recent case in Wales where a ‘predator’ had targeted a 15-year-old girl in a village-style changing area and filmed her on his phone while she was changing.

To shouts of support from the public gallery, he said: ‘These changing rooms represent a far higher risk than single-sex facilities. 

‘And they may cause women and girls to self-exclude, or traumatise those who have suffered from sexual abuse.

‘I don’t think we have done this properly. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have village-style changing available for families, but we should also have large single-sex facilities, particularly for women and girls because they are the ones who are at risk.

‘It’s logical, it’s sensible, it’s rational and it’s guided by science and research.’

A public consultation on the Broadmeadow revamp remains open until Friday 19 January, and councillors agreed to consider any amendments to the plans after the consultation ends.