Denbigh autism school plans moves a step closer despite opposition
Plans for a £23.8m school for children with autism in Denbigh moved a step closer this week after councillors agreed the preferred site.
But a row broke out during the cabinet meeting at Ruthin’s County Hall when some councillors questioned the level of engagement and consultation that was carried out with a neighbouring school and the local community.
An application for a new purpose-built school at Ystrad Road for Ysgol Plas Brondyffryn will now be submitted to Denbighshire ’s own planning department.
The specialist school for children with autism aged three to 19 will be built on a field next to Denbigh Leisure centre, currently used by Denbigh High School, if the planning application is agreed.
Ysgol Plas Brondyffryn currently teaches at three separate sites, including its main Park Street building, but it is currently oversubscribed, and the plan is to centralise.
Earlier this year, Ysgol Plas Brondyffryn reported it had 136 children but only had provision for 116 – with another 72 on the waiting list.
But at a cabinet meeting, some councillors said Denbigh High School was unhappy it would lose the field and running track, despite the council planning to replace the facility.
Cllr Rhys Thomas said Denbigh Leisure Ltd, the company who run the leisure centre, were unhappy with the plans, as well as Denbigh High School.
Cllr Thomas then read out a section of a three-page letter from Denbigh High’s governors sent to the chief executive in October 2022.
“It is expected that a significant amount of money has been spent on surveys and designing a building for Ysgol Plas Brondyffryn without any prior consultation with Denbigh High School or the wider community. This proposed build hugely impacts Denbigh High,” read Cllr Thomas.
“The proposed site is Denbigh High’s current school field and running track. To lose this facility would be detrimental to our pupils. As a school, we have not been consulted on this.”
Reading the letter, he added: “The location of the construction is detrimental to the children of the school.”
Cllr Thomas then questioned how much money had been spent on the project without following the proper democratic process.
Cllr Gill German, who is the cabinet member for education, said: “I am aware of the letter.
“I believe there’s been quite a lot of meetings and engagement with the school since then, and there is a new head in place, which I think is worth mentioning.”
But Cllr Thomas replied he had spent time with the new head and believed there hadn’t been engagement and consultation until very recently.
But leader Cllr Jason McLellan intervened and said time was ticking down during a long meeting and asked council officers to respond.
Officer Geraint Davies said there had been consultation with Denbigh High School and that there was documented evidence of emails, face-to-face meetings, and engagement with the school – with 13 points of engagement in 2019 alone.
“I would respectfully disagree,” he said.
“There has been engagement, in the same way we engaged with all the other projects as well.”
Cllr Gill German said the project had been a journey but believed Denbigh was the right place for the project.
“Education officers and myself believe there is a strong case for the school remaining in Denbigh,” she said.
“Denbigh is a central location, meaning reasonable journey times for any autistic child on the spectrum in the county, north or south.”
She added that the area was familiar to pupils and had links with Denbigh High for high-functioning pupils able to attend exam classes.
An alternative green field also on the school grounds was deemed unsuitable as using that would mean the school would be in deficit in terms of its numbers and open spaces.
Cllr Huw Hilditch-Roberts said if the council didn’t find space for the children there would be a massive knock-on effect affecting every school in Denbighshire, reminding the chamber that the educational needs of the pupils should be the focus.
The school is estimated to cost around £23.8m, but 75% of the cost will be paid by Welsh Government.
Councillors were warned that stalling the project could result in growing pressures relating to pupil numbers at the school and rising costs, especially if students were placed out of county.
According to the report, costs could range from £30,00 per year per pupil to £280,000 with financing falling on the council’s education department.
The matter will return for debate at a future planning committee meeting.
By Richard Evans – Local Democracy Reporter
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