“AMBITIOUS” plans to create a new school and a national centre for excellence at the former St Mary’s site in Shaftesbury have been approved.

Plans to create a new school for around 280 pupils with special educational needs and or disabilities (SEND) and a leading national centre of excellence at the site was approved after councillors considered views of local people, who overwhelmingly said it should continue to be used for education.

Councillor Andrew Parry, Dorset Council portfolio holder for children, education and early help, said: “We have seized a unique opportunity to create something amazing for Dorset. We are determined to make Dorset the best place to grow-up by investing in forward thinking initiatives like this.

“The good news is that creating a new SEND school with fantastic facilities will not only improve the lives of Dorset children and young people, but will also save money in the future.

“Our ambitious vision will reduce spending in the longer term because it costs almost three times as much to send a child away for private educational provision.

“We currently have to do this because our own excellent special schools are over-subscribed. This site has wonderful facilities, it would have cost a great deal more and taken several years, to build such an amazing school.”

A wider ranging, £37.5million plan to improve the lives of Dorset children with SEND and reduce future costs was also unveiled by Dorset Council last month.

This funding has been secured for the next five years to help deliver projects like St Mary’s, but also to create more provision in existing specials schools and new hubs at mainstream schools.

The St Mary’s site was bought earlier this year and the new school will be at the heart of a new centre of excellence on the site.

Plans are also being drawn up to try and create opportunities for local people in need to benefit from the site’s facilities.

While nothing has been decided yet, it is hoped that people who have been prescribed activities by the NHS to boost their mental and physical health will be able to access some of the leisure facilities.