Open house for children with special needs refused planning permission

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The future of an open house which primarily supports families with special needs children is in doubt after councillors ruled it would create ‘unacceptable’ noise and disturbance to neighbours.

Samantha and Robert Staniforth were inspired to open their home to other families after struggling to find a relaxing venue for their autistic ten-year-old, Milo.

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They lodged a planning application to seek permssion to use their home, in Links Avenue, Felpham, as a community open house – but Arun District Council’s planning committee sided with objecting neighbours and rejected their plea.

Addressing the committee yesterday (Wednesday, March 29), Mrs Staniforth said: “To date we have given away £170 plus of free teas and coffees and lots and lots of hugs.

“The support we offer works because it’s like coming over to a friend’s house and people feel instantly relaxed. It would not work in a more formal setting.”

The case has split the community, with 169 letters of support and 40 letters objection, including opposition from Felpham Parish Council.

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Wednesday’s hearing followed a rejection of similar plans in September.

The couple’s latest application reduced the opening hours requested, limited the maximum number of visitors to 20 and ensured that if they moved, the permission would not transfer to the new owners.

But concerns remained that the facility was inappropriate in a residential area.

Felpham East councillor David Edwards told the committee: “While the idea of a community project is to be commended with respect it is our opinion that this operation should be conducted from a commercial premises not a residential area.

“There is still a parking issue. Many of us at times have been unable to get out of our properties due to vehicles being badly parked. This includes an occasion witnessed by many when a hearse was unable to move along Links Avenue.”

Supporter Terry Ellis, of Arun Access disability group, said there had been much ‘conjecture’ about the plans.

“People visit because they are looking for a refuge of peace and tranquillity in their lives,” he said.

Councillors praised the facility but argued it was not suitable for a residential area.

Felpham West councillor Elaine Stainton said: “This has caused an awful lot of unrest in the village and particularly around that area. This is a business. It should be in commercial premises. End of story.”

Mrs Staniforth refuted claims the house was operating as a business. She said they sold items like cakes to cover costs and could not expand because of the size of her home.

She said noise was not an issue as children with special needs required a relaxing environment.

The plans were rejected by 13 votes to two, with councillors Paul Wells and Jim Brooks in support.

The refusal reason stated it would create an ‘unacceptable level of noise and disturbance to the residential amenities of neighbouring dwellings and the surrounding residential environment’.