MP backs campaigners fighting to stop special school's £12m expansion bid
PUBLISHED: 06:35 31 July 2019
North Somerset's MP 'will not hesitate' to call in plans to expand a special school onto green belt land in Clevedon if they are approved by councillors.
Liam Fox said Baytree School does wonderful work but argued Clevedon's Brookfield Walk is the wrong location for a £12million second site.
The school is looking to increase pupil numbers from 72 to 120 but cannot expand its campus near Weston.
In February, North Somerset Council's previous executive agreed a budget of up to £1million for pre-construction works in Brookfield Walk.
But campaigners, including Jack Vanblerk, have accused the council of going 'full steam ahead' with the scheme, despite concerns over how the policy has been progressed and the detrimental impact it will have on wildlife and community.
A scrutiny panel last month called for a review of the other 12 locations that had been discounted, and executive member Mark Canniford will make a decision on which to take forward in August.
But in writing to North Somerset Council, Dr Fox said: "I remain deeply opposed to the loss of greenbelt in North Somerset and given there are other potential sites that can be used for this very worthwhile project.
"Should permission be given by the council, I will not hesitate to write to the secretary of state to ask that the application be called in."
If approved, the number of spaces at Baytree School will increase from September 2021. Many pupils with special needed are educated outside the area, which is costly for the council.
Mr Vanblerk said: "What we've seen this council do is put secrecy clauses on plans, silencing councillors and creating profound dislike among the community - exactly the opposite of what you stand for.
"The only consideration this council has taken is to look for free land. The only problem is the free land is not free. It has residents that use it every day. We have no other space to walk our dogs or take our kids.
"We aren't disposable. We've started conducting our own noise and pollution surveys and will be publishing those soon.
"We're prepared to take all legal avenues. As we're fighting the council we also have to fund our own legal representation. This will cost us money.
"We hope this council takes note and does the responsible thing and scrutinise this problem.
North Somerset Council has previously denied it 'deliberately concealed' the plans for months.
Its spokesman said: "At its meeting in June, the children and young people's services policy and scrutiny panel requested a review of the 12 other sites which had also been looked at as possible locations for the expansion.
"This work is being carried out so that Cllr Canniford has the information necessary to make an informed decision."