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Dorset Council Reveals St Mary’s Shaftesbury Special School Plan And Purchase Price

St Mary’s Shaftesbury will be used as a special school in the future.

Dorset Council has revealed that they bought the former St Mary’s School site, which lies just across the Wiltshire border from Shaftesbury, for £10.05m. That payment excludes taxes and fees.

In a statement, Dorset Council says that opportunities to secure sites like this for Dorset are ‘very rare’. Cllr Spencer Flower, Leader of Dorset Council, said: “This is a significant investment and I am pleased that we have been able to secure it for the benefit of our community. We are always looking at ways of improving the delivery of services and this successful purchase will help us achieve that.”

On Tuesday, Dorset councillor Belinda Ridout told Motcombe Parish Council that the school purchase would reduce future costs. “A lot of our children with special needs go out of the county, which is costing the council a lot of money,” she said, adding that the purchase of St Mary’s would, “keep (children) local rather than sending off to special schools and facilities elsewhere, all over the country.”

The St Mary’s School site

Motcombe Parish councillor Peter Mouncey told the meeting that it was ‘very good news’ and would keep employment in the area.

“We are very ambitious for the site,” says Cllr Flower. “St Mary’s School comprises 165,000 square feet of accommodation, set within grounds of 55 acres. It is suitable for a broad range of services and community uses, which could include provision for Dorset children, supported living for our Dorset care leavers, provision for adults with disabilities, as well as a possible site for businesses to boost our local economy and more besides. We are committed to working with local people and stakeholder groups to get the mix of activity right so together we can achieve great things for this site and our community.”

This week Alfred interviewed Dorset Council’s finance lead, Cllr Gary Suttle. He said that the authority was facing a budget gap of just over £18m as it enters the next financial year. Dorset Council had expected a £42m shortfall last year. They reduced the amount of overspend through cost-saving and following the receipt of government money. “I realise people are asking how we can afford it, but this is a clear example of investing to save in the longer term,” said Cllr Flower.

Last week, one of Shaftesbury’s Dorset councillors, Tim Cook, told Alfred that he understood that Dorset Council would seek a government loan to fund the purchase. The Public Works Loans Board lends money to local authorities at very low interest rates compared with commercial loans.

Dorset Council says that a forthcoming consultation will explore a number of possible uses for the site. Local people and stakeholder groups will be asked for their views and this feedback will be considered before a final decision on use is made. Details of the consultation and how people can get involved are being drawn up and will be shared shortly. The council says it will commence ‘shortly’.

The property sale was managed by real estate advisor Savills. Stuart Jones, Savills development director, said: “We are delighted to have delivered a successful outcome. St Mary’s is a significant site, and we are pleased that it will remain a community asset.”

(14:30)