Plans to build a special school for 120 children in Ivybridge have taken a step forward after South Hams District Council gave the go-ahead.

The proposed school, in the east of the town close to Ivybridge Rugby Club, will cater for children with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) conditions. However, some councillors feel more money should come from the county council and central government to support cycle paths serving the new school. Others questioned claims about the number of local jobs the project would create.

The plans were submitted by Devon County Council. Neil Pateman from the county’s built environments team told councillors on South Hams development management committee on Wednesday (January 18), why the school was being considered.

“There is a large shortfall of SEN (special educational needs) places across the county,” he said. “It is a significant number and there is a particular challenge around social, emotional, mental health and autism.

“And the south west of the county is again a particular hotspot where there is a shortage of provision.”

Ivybridge Town Council questioned claims about local employment in the new school and where pupils would come from.

Mayor of Ivybridge and town councillor, Cllr Sara Hladkij, said: “I do have a little concern about the number of students who are going to be applicable from the Ivybridge area itself. “Ivybridge Community College has a huge catchment area which isn’t necessarily in Ivybridge itself.

“And also where the employment and needs are going to come from because this is a special school which needs specialised staff who are not necessarily going to be found in Ivybridge.”

Liberal Democrat councillor for Ivybridge East, Victor Abbott, suggested there was insufficient funding being offered to provide cycle routes which would help the town meet targets set by Active Travel England and felt the school project should be used to obtain more money.

Active Travel England is the government’s agency responsible for making walking, wheeling and cycling the preferred choice for everyone to get around. “It is the government’s objective to have 50 per cent of trips in England’s towns and cities to be walked, wheeled or cycled by 2030,” said Cllr Abbott. “If we do not build appropriately now and over the next seven years, we will not attain this aim.”

Although it was suggested that £20,000 of Section 106 funding [money which comes from developers] could help create a “toucan crossing” near the school and build new cycle paths, Cllr Abbott said this would be insufficient and the county council should be paying more.

He added: “For the people of Ivybridge it’s much more than that, and this is an opportunity where we should be supporting cycling and pedestrian, which which could be lost if we don’t press this.” Green Party councillor for Dartington and Staverton, Jacqi Hodgson, went further and suggested central government should be footing the bill for active travel, as the school will be built through the government’s free schools initiative. Cllr Hodgson said: “The actual application has been put forward by the government for this provision and I see no reason why they can’t make sure that it has good active travel as part of it. Because we have Active Travel England, which is a new national body and it seems, if this is at national level, they should be doing that.” Council officers explained it was outside the authority’s remit to seek funding from the county council or central government for active travel. The application for outline planning permission was agreed unanimously by the committee.