A woman who opened her home for families with children with special needs has described her devastation over a council decision which could see the facility close.
Samantha Staniforth runs Olive Tree House, in Links Avenue, Felpham, as a not-for-profit venture, providing a relaxing environment for families to meet.
But its future hangs in the balance, after Arun District Council refused planning permission to change the property to an ‘open house’.
“I was devastated,” said Samantha.
“We had been told by some councillors it was very unlikely it would go through but we held out for the officer and hoped they would see the human side and that it is desperately needed.”
Mrs Staniforth has been running the open house alongside husband, Robert, since April. She said Arun had initially advised planning permission was not needed – but was visited by officers in July following complaints.
Officers rejected the application last Wednesday, arguing visitors would create a ‘significant level of noise and disturbance’.
But Mrs Staniforth questioned the decision, explaining many of the children who visited needed a quiet environment. It was experience with two of her own children which prompted the venture.
She said: “One of our boys is on the autistic spectrum and another has cerebral palsy. Going anywhere is a real struggle, so we couldn’t go somewhere like Costa very often because they can’t cope with the environment.”
The application attracted 230 letters of support and 34 objections. ‘Blown away’ by the support, Mrs Staniforth has vowed to appeal the decision.
Despite high public interest, the plans were not heard by councillors because of recent changes to the way applications are dealt with.
Mrs Staniforth believed a public hearing may have helped the council better understand the concept.
She said other venues, including community centres, would not be suitable as its success was down to the homely feel provided for families.
Anyone able to offer legal advice or has experience of planning appeals is asked to contact Mrs Staniforth on 07903 689984 or send a message via her Facebook page, here.