Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC) has been accused of “pure discrimination” after refusing permission for a planned residential home for those with learning disabilities.

TVBC’s environmental health team objected to the plans, on the grounds that residents would make “disconcerting noises” and ‘throw items over neighbouring fences’ which would disturb neighbours.

Disabilities campaigners, the applicant and families of those with learning disabilities have criticised the council for its “shocking” decision.

Sara Goodman, a spokesperson for Andover disabilities campaign group #NeedsToo, told the Advertiser: “The fact that Test Valley made these appallingly discriminatory comments in this day and age is incredible. Nobody else, when they’re moving into a house, gets refused because they might throw something over a fence or make a noise.

“It’s a very outdated view.”

A TVBC spokesman said that the council “is supportive of facilities of this nature, and this decision should not be interpreted to mean anything different”.

The dispute relates to a planning application by Maddison Taylor, who applied to convert her family home, Creepers Cottage in Mead Hedges, into a supported living home following many years of work as a carer at Andover and District Mencap. The property would see no alterations to its structure, just requiring a change of use from TVBC.

Concerns had been raised regarding parking and traffic at the site, but were addressed during the course of the application. Noise concerns, however, were raised by environmental health officers, leading to the plan’s refusal.

“We didn’t expect many objections at all,” said Maddison, “and I’m quite surprised that it is a noise one that led to it being rejected. I couldn’t have predicted anything like that.

In planning documents, officers say: “The applicant has reiterated that control [of noise] would be exercised through careful selection of residents but there is no explanation as to how this decision is made or on what evidence is available to make such a decision.

“Whilst we accept that some residents will be unlikely to exhibit behaviour that is likely to lead to complaint, this is unlikely to be the case for all of the residents. It is also true that behaviour may change and so residents accepted on whatever criteria may overtime display behaviour more likely to impact on the amenity of neighbours and lead to complaint.”

In particular, reference was made to “raised voices and banging”; “disconcerting noises”; and “items being thrown over neighbouring fences”, which Kate Hitchings, whose son Connor was intended to live in the cottage, described as “disgraceful”.

“I’m really hurt by this as Connor as a young man should have the same rights as any 20-year-old, as they’re basically saying Connor and other people like him aren’t fit to live in this house due to unacceptable and harmful noise.

“I don’t think they would stop a large family from moving into that house and it doesn’t make sense to me. If they said it was a refusal on the grounds of the property conversion I would probably accept it more but they’re not, it’s a refusal on the basis of potential harmful noise and that hurts me to the core because that’s attacking my son for being who he is.”

She objected particularly to a comment that only areas of the garden “more remote from the neighbour” should be used by residents to avoid noise complaints.

“It suggests they utilise a section of the garden so as to reduce the noise while they’re in the garden, like we should pen them like animals. What are they trying to say?”

Sara told the Advertiser that people with disabilities “are having to fight and be up against this sort of thing every day”.

“I’ve got a son of a similar age to Connor,” she said, “and we certainly weren’t vetted before moving in to our home, so it’s pure discrimination.”

She also criticised comparisons made in the environmental health team’s comments to another residential home in Andover, saying that this case should be dealt with on its own merits.

“I don’t know the details,” she said, “but it’s not run or managed by the same people so to object to Creepers Cottage on the back of what might have happened somewhere else in the town is rubbish.

“All the immediate neighbours are in full support of this application and if anyone was going to complain or make an objection it would be them, but they’re all behind the project.”

She said that similar levels of noise would be made by the occupants of the six-bedroom Creepers Cottage whether it was occupied as a family home or as a supported living home.

“To say a disabled group would make more noise than any other family is ridiculous,” she said. “If they were saying it about any of the other protected minorities they wouldn’t say it because they wouldn’t be allowed to. We feel as usual that disabled people don’t have a voice and we intend to be it.”

The group now intend to take the fight to the council by appealing the decision to the planning inspectorate. Under the law, anyone who disagrees with a planning decision can appeal it to the inspectorate, who investigate claims made by both sides and hold hearings to settle the dispute.

Maddison said that the amount of support behind her was “fantastic”, and has driven her to take the decision to appeal.

“It’s amazing to have people share my dream and highlights the desperation for this time of accommodation and how much they need this,” she said. “It’s given me a push towards having this approved eventually and wanting to do an appeal as lots of people want it.”

She said that she wanted the fight to open the public’s eyes to those with disabilities, and the support they need,

“I think some people have very old-fashioned and outdated views on life,” she said, “and I think if people were put in the position parents of children with additional needs have now they would think completely differently and be desperate for this type of accommodation.”

She intends to take legal advice on the Equalities Act and the Human Rights Act to make her case before a planning inspector. In this, she will be supported by #NeedsToo, who have offered their support.

“We intend to support Maddie and help her fight it all the way,” said Sara. “This isn’t about just one house, it’s about the whole discrimination aspect. As an organisation we will be contacting legal advisors for Maddie as this is exactly what the Equalities Act was written for.”

A spokesperson for Test Valley Borough Council said: “When considering planning applications, we have to determine whether the proposed development is in the right location, both for the applicant’s needs and uses, and for those around them.

"The council has to look beyond the intentions of the applicant and consider the potential implications of a change to any of the broad range of uses within the same planning use category, in this case a residential dwelling, as well as the potential future impact beyond this, such as a further change of operator. On this occasion, while considering past experiences and the individual circumstances of this case, we believed that this was not the right location.

“Of course, we’re more than happy to continue discussions with the applicant, as we would with any applicant, as well as a right of appeal to the independent Planning Inspectorate.”