A £6 million donation to expand a primary school could put the future of neighbouring schools “at risk”, says Wiltshire Council.

Billionaire businessman Sir James Dyson recently claimed the council and the Department of Education had tried to block his huge donation to Malmesbury Church of England Primary School.

The James Dyson Foundation had pledged the grant on the condition the school received approval for their expansion plans, which included a new Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths (STEAM) centre.

The school also intended to build seven new classrooms and a school hall, in a development that could see them take on 210 new pupils, a 50 per cent increase in the student population.

While the Department of Education has since denied that the donation has been blocked, Wiltshire Council admitted to concerns over how the expansion would impact other local schools.

Cllr Laura Mayes, the cabinet member for children’s services, said: “Wiltshire Council is committed to ensuring all our school pupils have access to opportunities that excite and inspire them to achieve the very best.

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: Malmesbury Primary SchoolMalmesbury Primary School (Image: The James Dyson Foundation.)

“We have a clear and evidence-based School Places Strategy and plans to ensure there are sufficient school places for all.

“There are already sufficient places in the three local schools to cater for expected demand and so we have expressed our concern that a potential 210 additional places at Malmesbury Primary school would have a severe impact on neighbouring schools, reducing their pupil numbers and putting their future sustainability at risk.”

In a letter to The Times, Sir James criticised this view and appealed to the education secretary to “give parents what they want.”

He wrote: “Land is available at no cost and 94 per cent of local people support the scheme but the local authority and Department for Education say no, citing the risk of other schools having insufficient numbers.

“They would rather hundreds of Malmesbury’s children commute unsustainably, by bus, to outlying village schools and deny parents the choice to send their children to this outstanding local school.”

The Department of Education called this letter a mischaracterisation.

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: Sir James Dyson claims his donation to Malmesbury school has been blocked. Picture: PASir James Dyson claims his donation to Malmesbury school has been blocked. Picture: PA

On Monday, October 30, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson told reporters: “That’s not an accurate characterisation.

“There is a formal process that rightly needs to be followed, a decision hasn’t been made. Certainly, we are extremely grateful for Sir James Dyson’s generosity.

“We’ve been dealing with that request to expand the school as quickly as possible since it was submitted over the summer.”