As the final touches are being made to the plan to develop a new school and campus for the Seashell Trust in Cheadle Hulme, we speak to Chief Executive Mark Geraghty.
We asked Mark what the new development means for the pupils with profound and multiple learning and communications difficulties, and why the application includes plans to develop 325 homes on Green Belt land to the north of the site.
Q: What does the project involve?
Mark: The plan is to create a new school and campus with specialist recreational centre and hydrotherapy pool. The current school building is old and outdated and to be honest, we are struggling to meet the challenging needs of our pupils because of the constraints of the building.
But that kind of development costs a lot of money and although we are using millions of pounds of our own money, we do need to sell some of our land for development to help provide the bulk of the money.
Because of this, the proposal involves building up to 325 homes on a part of our land between Wilmslow Road and the A34 in Heald Green which is designated as green belt. It’s a difficult decision but the sale of the land will mean we can raise the £45 million we need to redevelop our campus and bring the facilities up to the standards needed to meet our children’s needs.
Q: Why do you need to raise so much when other schools have redeveloped for significantly less money?
Mark: We have looked carefully at what our pupils are going to need in the long-term future. These are children with profound disabilities and we do need very specialist facilities.
Yes, I am aware that other school have been redeveloped for less money but those were different schools with different needs.
We have gone to a great deal of trouble to be transparent about why the money is needed and how it will be spent and Stockport Council have brought in independent assessors to check our sums. There is no question that every penny will be spent in delivering a superb school which is fit for purpose and the future of our very special children.
Q: How can you be sure that you are selling the land for its true market value?
Mark We’ve undertaken a detailed process of offered the site to the market and considered competitive bids from a number of developers. This again has been subject to scrutiny by independent regulators and we are completely satisfied that we have secured the maximum value from the land.
Q: Why do you need to build on the Green Belt when there are Brownfield sites available?
Mark: We are not housing developers and never will be. This scheme has been driven by our need to raise money for our scheme. Seashell Trust happens to own some land which lies within the green belt and if there were another option we would use it.
Unfortunately, there is no way we can get the funding needed through central government grants and we only have so much money in reserves and borrowing capability. We need to sell this land to deliver the project. There really is no plan B.
Q: Opponents to the project say Wilmslow Road and the A34 is already congested. Won’t the new development create more cars on the road?
Mark: A full traffic impact assessment has been undertaken by traffic consultants and was submitted as part of the application. The report found the impact of this proposal on traffic in the area will be negligible across all aspects of driver delay, passenger safety and impact on cyclists.
Q: How does this project meet the ‘Very Special Circumstances’ outlined by Stockport Council for developing on the Green Belt?
Mark: That’s a good question and one we have given a lot of thought to. There is no doubt we are now in desperate need of a new school and campus. Some of the existing buildings date back to the 1950s and are not able to deliver the kind of care that our young people require.
We don’t have any other way to raise the money need to build that development and we have explored countless avenues. We believe this constitutes the very special circumstances that allow for development on the green belt and that is what we have asked the council to consider.
Q: An independent audit found that the Trust is in a strong financial position. Why do you need to raise funds through the sale of this land?
Mark: For us to continue to be a leading provider of specialist services for children with incredibly complicated needs, we need a new school and that costs a significant amount of money.
We are using our reserves to pay for a good proportion of the new school but we don’t have enough. We have explored all other funding routes and this is the only remaining option. Without the replacement of the existing school there is a very real possibility that Seashell Trust could cease to exist longer term.
Q: The Trust recently received an outstanding rating from Ofsted. If this is the case, why does the school need to change?
Mark: We were delighted to be awarded an outstanding rating by Ofsted for the third consecutive year. This reflects the tireless work and dedication of our staff to provide the best care possible.
However, the campus itself is fast becoming outdated and making it more difficult for our excellent team to deliver these high standards of educational care. Without these essential upgrades, we will no longer be able to offer the outstanding care that our children need and could cease to operate entirely. We cannot afford to let that happen.