Former NHS offices will become a college for young people with autism under plans given council approval.

Independent provider Education & Services for People with Autism (ESPA) asked for planning permission to use a two-storey Ideal House on Allensway, Thornaby as a SEND (special educational needs and disability) college.

It proposed to expand, moving from 20 to 30 full-time employees, with 10 part-time, according to its application.

Applicant Patrick Cahill said in the plans submitted to the council: “ESPA College is a nationally renowned, leading specialist college for young autistic adults. We have four college sites across the North-east – two in Sunderland, one in Newcastle and one in Stockton.

“We have subsequently outgrown our Stockton college and it is now our intention to expand our reach and services in the area with the purchase of Ideal House in Thornaby. The building recently used as NHS office space will undergo a change of use to a SEND college and learning environment for young autistic people and their professional support teams, therapists and tutors.”

The council received no comments from neighbours about the plans. Council planning officers said the educational use would not harm them and would “contribute positively to the wider town centre and generate the potential for linked trips, thus supporting the wider vitality and viability of Thornaby town centre”.

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They said changes to windows, fencing and plastic cladding would modernise and improve the building and decided to approve the development. ESPA, which is based in Sunderland, was last inspected by Ofsted in October 2022. It was given a good rating by the education watchdog.

ESPA’s website says ESPA College Tithebarn in Stockton offers students a tailored, “creative and wide-ranging curriculum to autistic and neurodiverse young people looking to build their skills, qualifications, and coping strategies to increase their independence and/or find employment within the local community”.