Published: 00:01, 17 January 2019
| Updated: 07:39, 17 January 2019
A district's first free school which will cater specifically for children with special needs is on its way.
Swale Borough Council has approved plans for the Aspire School to be built in Sittingbourne.
It will specifically cater for children with autism or speech and language difficulties.
The decision will be welcome news for many parents - in 2016, there were 316 children in Swale with an Education, Health and Care Plan, of whom many suffered from Autistic Spectrum Disorder, with the number expected to grow by 6% by 2020.
However, up to two-thirds of the 168 pupils at the new school are expected to come from outside the area.
That caused Bobbing Parish Council to raise concerns about increased traffic on Staplehurst Road, although overall the parish still supported the school.
There were six letters of objection, focussing mostly on traffic and the loss of green space.
The school will be built on land owned by the council and leased for 125 years to the Grove Park Academies Trust who will run the school.
The land is currently vacant and used mostly by dog-walkers, but was designated to become a community woodland, though no planting has yet taken place.
The school will educate four to 11-year-olds in classes as small as eight.
The 4.2 acre site lies between The Meads and the Watermark estates, with entry off Vellum Drive.
The school building will be only one-storey high, and each classroom will have access to open space.
There will be 91 car parking spaces and 32 drop-off places.
The school anticipates employing 83 staff.
Kent County Council said in 2016, 2.8% of all pupils in the county qualify for additional support, which equates to 7,043 children.
The figure has increased by 37% from five years earlier and is expected to grow further.
Cllr James Hunt (Con), the ward representative for The Meads, had some reservations, but voted for the plan.
He said: “The permission has a lot of conditions attached to it that will allay some of residents’ concerns, particularly over the feeling that they had not been kept properly informed.
“There is still a concern about traffic and parking in the area, and I shall be pressing KCC as the highways authority to impose any necessary restrictions, both to ease congestion and to ensure the safety of the children at the school.”
Cllr Mike Whiting (Con) who represent Swale West said: “Our young people with additional educational needs badly deserve more good quality local provision.”
Ceranne Litton, the executive head at Grove Park Primary School, said: “We are absolutely delighted. This has been a long time coming - we first got permission to go for a free school back in 2016, but we are now up and running.
"This is an absolute must for our area because Swale has one of the highest number of children with special educational needs of any district authority in Kent.”
No firm dates have been set, but the trust is hoping to open the new school in September 2020.