Backers behind a proposed £3m equine therapy centre for people with autism hope to convince planners it will meet the ‘very special circumstances’ needed to justify its development in the green belt.
Plans have been lodged with Cheshire West and Chester Council for the cutting edge equine therapy and respite centre on a 10-hectare site off the Welsh Road, Little Sutton.
Equine therapy has been shown to have huge benefits to people with a diagnosis of autism or Asperger’s, and to those with special educational needs.
The Westlake Equine Therapy Centre – a Community Interest Company (CIC) – set up specifically for the project, has submitted the application and one of the primary users will be the Wirral Autistic Society (WAS) along with other local service users predominantly in the Wirral and Cheshire West & Chester areas.
Offering short breaks to families living autism is a key aim aside from the equine therapy itself. The project includes four respite lodges where families and those in their care can stay within a supported environment.
It is the brainchild of two local businessmen and their families who, having personal experience of autism, set up the not-for-profit company. WAS, who would run and manage the facility, would be gifted a long term lease on the centre at a peppercorn rent on the granting of planning consent.
Chris Clayton, agent for the applicant, said: “Planning permission for development on green belt land is only given in very special circumstances, where the need for development is overwhelming and the benefits clearly outweigh any harm caused. I’m convinced that such conditions exist with this project.
‘The demand from both the Wirral and Cheshire West catchments is huge and illustrated by the great success and popularity in WAS’s existing facilities at Raby and elsewhere. The development itself is very low density and, in my view, the minimal harm caused to the green belt is hugely outweighed by the benefits.’
The capital cost of the project is £3m to be funded from the sale of 15 residential plots on the front two hectares of land facing the Welsh Road, opposite the Mercure Woodhey Hotel.
A significant employer, the centre would employ around 100 jobs and create employment opportunities, mostly in the Ellesmere Port catchment area. The facilities would be available to others on a regular basis including the disabled, trauma victims and local schools.
Steve Nunwick, WAS’s director of estates and facilities, said in support of the application, said: ‘This is a unique opportunity for WAS to benefit from the Westlake project which will be handed over as a purpose-built turnkey complex like no other in the UK. We are very excited about the prospect of a truly integrated community project that provides a spectrum of facilities including respite, community and vocational services and employment opportunities for our award-winning Step into Work scheme. This landmark project will only proceed with the benefit of planning permission and I hope that this is granted to enable us to offer these transformational new services to our service users and their families.’
Other supporters, offering technical and equine advice, include the Riding for the Disabled Association and Chester Race Company.
The new centre will be available to service uses in Wirral and Cheshire and address the current shortage of care and respite opportunities for those living with autism. Further information about the Westlake Equine Therapy & Respite Centre is available by visiting: www.westlakeequinetherapycentre.co.uk