Major plans to provide an extra 278 school places in Southampton for children with special educational needs and disabilities are pressing ahead.

Leaders insisted there is no expectation to pause the £43million SEND expansion programme despite the city council’s difficult financial position.

Cabinet has agreed funding arrangements for the places but concerns have been raised about the progress that has been made to date.

Conservative councillor for Sholing James Baillie asked the administration about a pause to the programme.

He said the plans had been around a long time with little visible progress.

In a written response, cabinet member for children and learning Cllr Alex Winning said: “Work is continuing with full designs being available in November 2024 at which point tenders will be put out.

“£43m has been invested in these new places, ensuring that children with special education needs and disabilities have access to high-quality learning and developmental places.

“This is a priority for myself as cabinet member and the service and there is no expectation that there will be any pause on the programme as I think we all agree that the additional capacity is absolutely vital.

“This is something I am really keen to see move forwards now and I look forward to it progressing.”

The city council’s six special schools reached capacity in September 2020.

Temporary classrooms providing 70 spaces were introduced in 2022 to meet increasing demand and mitigate the high cost of out-of-city placements.

At a council meeting on May 15, Cllr Baillie pressed the Labour member to confirm that “there is absolutely not going to be a pause”.

He asked for an indication of the timescale for the programme.

Cllr Winning said a pause had not taken place, adding: “It is a priority for me and it is a priority for the service so I am pushing that through and it’s something I talk about pretty much daily because it just needs to happen.

“It has to be a priority, we know that. The money has been agreed for a long time. It is in that capital programme.

“When we get the full designs in November this year, the tenders will go out and I think then we will start to see some real progress being made.”

A report presented to cabinet last year outlined 152 additional spaces would be created at sites run by Great Oaks School in Green Lane and Vermont Close.

The temporary places introduced in 2022 would also be made permanent.

Vermont School’s existing 50 places would be relocated to the St Monica’s Infants School site alongside room for an additional 26 spaces.

The report gave projections that the council’s special school places provision would increase to 538 across the city by 2027.