1. ITV Report

Children's play centre forced to close due to noise complaints

Little Play Down has been forced to close following noise complaints Photo: ITV Meridan

A children's role-play centre in Hampshire says it's being forced to close because the children using it, make too much noise.

'Little Play Town' in Odiham has been served with a noise abatement order after the businesses below it complained.

The owner of the centre, which offers a role-play environment for youngsters aged seven and under, says she stands to lose tens of thousands of pounds - and her staff will lose their jobs.

Virna Browne moved into the first floor of Fountains Mall last year, after applying to the council to change the lease to a children's recreational lease. With no objections to the application, it was approved and she invested tens of thousands of pounds in setting up the business.

But following subsequent complaints, Hart District Council investigated and she was given a noise abatement order. She says despite trying repeatedly, she can't fix the problems, and now faces eviction.

The level of noise transfer is due in part to the structure of the flooring in the listed building. The listed status also makes it difficult and expensive to fix.

I never expected this to happen. This is my life, and we've put all our savings into this and now we're going to lose it all.

We would obviously love for the Little Play Town to stay open. All the parents' support has been amazing and they really want it to stay open too.

If they [the council] said no, we're not giving you the lease in the first instance, I would have gone somewhere else.

But they gave me permission knowing exactly what we were going to do.

– Virna Browne, Owner

Lots of parents have voiced their support for Little Play Town, saying it is much-needed in the area and provides a safe, fun space for children, with one describing the business as an 'absolute gem'. Another said it had been a 'god-send' as it allows parents on the nearby RAF base who don't drive to get out and socialise with other families.

A baby enjoying Little Play Town Credit: ITV Meridian

The cafe and gift shop below said they have experienced loud noise and vibrations, which has affected business.

The manager told ITV Meridian News that they were led to believe that the space upstairs was going to be used for a children's education centre.

In statement Katharine Jane Gift shop & Fountains Coffee Shop said: "We were told that it was going to be a children's educational centre, but it turned out to be a commercial play area.

"We do not hear children happily playing but experience a constant barrage of thumping crashing and running producing a significant noise and vibration impact to our business below."

Fountains Mall

They said they have nothing against the business upstairs and they're sorry about this situation but in hindsight, the listed building is totally unsuitable for this kind of activity.

Virna says she has documentation to prove that the business is an educational role-play centre and she has been completely open about the nature of the business from the beginning.

She said: "It's an educational centre which promotes learning through role-play and we made that very clear when we made the application. We even told them what kind of sections we would have and what would be situated where. And kids are kids - they will be walking, exploring, they might drop a toy or jump up and down if they are excited. But this is an educational role-play centre.

ITV Meridian put it to Hart District Council that in any kind of environment for young children, noise should be expected.

On the information we had at the time of the planning application, it was considered that this type of business operating in that area would have been acceptable.

There's always going to be an element of noise but there is a difference between acceptable noise levels and what we class as statutory nuisance.

In this particular instance, unfortunately the building itself - and it couldn't have been identified by anyone without any detailed surveys being done in advance - creates noise transfer between the two floors that is exceptional.

– Nick Steevens, Regulatory Services, Hart District Council

Virna said she has tried everything and says the high cost of moving elsewhere, means there is no option, but to close.