A new school will be built for special needs pupils in Wokingham and Reading after a planning decision despite concerns over air quality.

The new institution, Oak Tree School, will have a maximum of 150 places to serve those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs.

Approval now means that the school will be built by the Department of Education on farmland off Woodward Close in Winnersh.

But councillors on Wokingham Borough Council’s planning committee raised concerns about pollution coming from the nearby M4 motorway.

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Councillor Gary Cowan (Independent, Arborfield) appearing virtually, said: “This is a wonderful scheme located in completely the wrong place.

“I believe putting a special needs school near a motorway is a lesson we should all be careful of.”

Planning officer Sophie Morris replied by saying the council’s environmental health officers did not object to the scheme and that future pupils and staff would not be impacted by pollution coming from the M4.

Meanwhile, Cllr Sam Akhtar (Conservative, Charvil) asked why the school was not designed larger.

Cllr Akhtar said: “I’d hate for this school to be built and then in two years it will be full, and we’re stuck saying we wish we had 250.”

In response, Sal Thirway, the council’s assistant director of childrens services, said: “The pupil numbers are appropriate for the school build.”

Bracknell News: A CGI of the proposed Oak Tree School in Winnersh. Credit: Department for EducationA CGI of the proposed Oak Tree School in Winnersh. Credit: Department for Education

There were also fears over the intensification of traffic in Winnersh.

Cllr Rachelle Shepher-Dubey (Liberal Democrat, Winnersh) said: “There’s going to be a significant problem on Woodward Close.”

But council officer Chris Easton replied by saying that  the majority of the pupils from Oak Tree School would be coming into school by taxi, mini bus and a school provided bus.

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The application was approved at the planning meeting on Wednesday, September 8 by seven votes , with Cllr Carl Doran (Independent, Bulmershe & Whitegates) abstaining. Cllr Cowan appeared at the meeting virtually, and therefore was not able to vote.

You can see a tweet thread of how the meeting progressed here: 

You can view the approved plans by typing reference 211772 into Wokingham Borough Council’s planning website here: https://planning.wokingham.gov.uk/FastWebPL/welcome.asp

It is hoped that the school will open in September next year.