The public has backed Dorset Council’s proposal to use St Mary’s Shaftesbury as a school for children and young people with, or Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).
Last night, council leader Spencer Flower told a Dorset Council meeting that a six-week consultation had attracted over 1,500 responses, with 89% of the respondents supporting the council’s preferred option for the use of the site. Cllr Flower said that Dorset Council’s £10million purchase of the former private school site in January was ‘quite exciting and it really demonstrates that we are bold and we are ambitious’.
1,427 overall responses were received and there were 462 replies from people living within three miles or so of the school. Shaftesbury area residents make up 32% of the total responses. 18% of replies came from ex-pupils of the school, which went into administration last July.
There was very strong support for St Marys continuing for educational purposes, with 92% overall in favour. 89% of respondents backed the council’s preferred option of using St Marys as a SEND school. There was strong support for the additional use of the St Mary’s site to create a campus with complementary facilities for vulnerable children, young people and adults. 82% of respondents backed this.
The council provided a range of alternative suggestions for the consultation, but they made it clear that they would not necessarily be bound by public opinion. 70% of people supported the use of the 55-acre site for respite care, but the majority of respondents didn’t want the site leased to an independent school provider. 62% of people disagreed with that proposal. 48% of replies were against using the site for a training and conference suite. 37% of replies agreed with that suggested use.
There were 229 requests to allow the public to continue to use the swimming pool and sports facilities, including the gym. The chairman of North Dorset Sub-Aqua Club wanted to access the pool for training and practising for one-hour session on Thursday evening. “We have lost our venue and the club now has no pool to use,” they wrote.
Shaftesbury and Surrounding Area Runners requested use of the site for a monthly 5km park run for Shaftesbury. Project organiser Laura Langley has faced difficulty in securing a route for a weekly Saturday run which doesn’t cross public highways. “The site has large grounds, and a route could be easily plotted,” said the group in their submission.
There were calls for more footpaths and better pedestrian and cycling access. Respondents also asked the council not to sell off any land for housing.
The main negative comments were related to how some respondents felt the consultation should have been undertaken before purchase. There were some concerns over what they saw as wasting taxpayer’s money.
Last night Cllr Flower said that the recommendation for the use of St Mary’s would be discussed by a Dorset Council cabinet meeting on Thursday the 29th of April.