CONSTRUCTION on a new academy for children with autism in the North-East is now underway.

The Harry Watts Academy is being built in Ramillies Road, Redhouse, in north Sunderland.

It is named after the Sunderland-born sailor and diver who saved dozens of people from drowning in the River Wear and North Sea.

Sunderland City Council’s cabinet member for children, learning and skills, Councillor Louise Farthing said: “Demand for school places for children with autism has been rising.

“These are children with complex, social, behavioural and emotional needs.

“As there is increasing demand for specialist school places, it is right and correct that they are met locally.

“As a council we are committed to providing the very best education and the very best facilities for all our children.”

The proposal to develop the academy was backed by the council’s decision-making cabinet following a major consultation exercise with schools and parents.

Nine-out-of-ten consultees welcomed the plans when it was outlined to them.

Cllr Farthing said: “The council has been working in partnership with its children’s company Together for Children (TfC) and has long-term plans to meet all needs.

“The Harry Watts Academy is part of this plan and the start of work on the building is most welcome.”

The council successfully secured £6.3m in grant funding to develop the academy which is on the site of the former Bishop Harland primary.

It has been designed by the council’s capital projects team, is due to be complete for January 2021 and is being built by Kier Group.

Phil McDowell, operations director for Kier Regional Building North-East, said: “Breaking ground at the site of the new Harry Watts Academy is the first major milestone in the construction of this project.

“We are delighted to be working with Sunderland City Council to deliver this much needed specialist facility.”

By 2022, Harry Watts is expected to have nearly 100 pupils and the academy is being overseen by the Prosper Learning Trust.

Mr McDowell said: “Kier has a long held reputation within both the North-East and the education sector and has been responsible for the delivery of over £5bn of education facilities in the last decade.

“Most recently, we have successfully delivered four schools projects across the North-East region in time for the beginning of the school year and we look forward to marking further milestones as the project at Harry Watts Academy progresses.”