Redbridge Council's bid to take over ex Chigwell autism school blocked

The Anderson School in Chigwell

The Anderson School in Chigwell, which closed in 2020 - Credit: Google

Redbridge Council's bid to take over a former school for autistic children in Chigwell has been blocked.

In the summer of 2020, the Anderson School, owned by the National Autistic Society (NAS), shut down after a raft of behavioural complaints.

The NAS then entered into talks with Redbridge to lease it the building for use as a general special needs school, which would require overturning a strict planning condition requiring it solely educate autistic children.

However, Epping Forest District Council and Essex County Council refused to allow this, citing strict rules about the use of buildings on the green belt.

The NAS has appealed to the Planning Inspectorate and the case has been referred to the minister for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, who is expected to rule on the matter by the end of March.

A Redbridge Council spokesperson said: “Unfortunately, it has not been possible to progress the use of the former Anderson School site for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

“This is a result of an intervention by Essex County Council.

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“We are actively identifying alternative options to ensure sufficient high-quality provision to meet long-term projections of need.

“We are working with local schools to ensure that needs are met more immediately. For example, in November 2021, Cabinet agreed to plans to expand Newbridge Special School by a further 21 places and for an autistic spectrum disorder additionally resourced provision to be opened at Caterham High School for 28 additional pupils.”

Redbridge is under pressure to create extra spaces for children with special needs, with corporate director of appeal Adrian Loades stating that the borough’s capacity was “full” in 2020.

Writing in support of the NAS appeal, he said: “Without this option the children would be educated in mobile classrooms on already highly constrained sites or be placed in schools considerably more distant from Redbridge.”

NAS chief executive Caroline Stevens said: “We want an experienced and respected provider to take over our former school in Chigwell, so local autistic children and young people can use this specially designed school building as soon as possible. We’re deeply disappointed that it continues to be empty.

“We would like to take this moment to apologise once again to our former students, families, carers for failing to live up to the ambition we had for our own school and for the disruption and uncertainties our decision to close caused.”