Campaigners in Wrexham lose last battle to save school

Reporter:

Rory Sheehan

A LAST-ditch attempt to save the old Groves school building in Wrexham has failed.

Wrexham Council’s executive board voted unanimously last month to demolish the building on Powell Road – just six days after the proposal was made public.

Yesterday a scrutiny committee decided by a wafer-thin majority not to urge the council’s executive board to reconsider the decision, after it was successfully ‘called in’ by Liberal Democrat councillors.

Lib Dem group leader Carole O’Toole, in whose Maesydre ward the building stands, kicked off a fiery debate by outlining the case for revisiting the decision.

She said: “Voting in favour of referring the decision back [to the executive board] would allow more time for meaningful discussion and debate to take place between the council and the public.

“Six days to decide the fate of an iconic, historic building which has been part of the landscape for 70 years is not enough. The news was like a bolt out of the blue.”

Cllr O’Toole said public confidence in the council would be damaged as a result of an apparent “lack of openness and transparency”.

But council leader Mark Pritchard launched a staunch defence of the process which led to the decision to mothball the Groves.

“It has not been rushed,” he said. “The building has stood empty for 14 years and £900,000 has been spent on maintaining it.

“It has been treated like any other property.”

He added: “Under the Local Government Act 1972 we have a statutory legal duty to print reports three days before an executive board meeting.

“There were executive board discussions and workshops on the Groves as far back as 2012.”

Marford Lib Dem councillor Mike Edwards queried whether Cllr Pritchard felt he had listened “sufficiently” to stakeholders and the public before arriving at the decision.

Cllr Pritchard (Ind) said: “There are serious health and safety issues – asbestos, I do not regret this for one minute.

“We have a duty of care. Young children run into the building, drug users and rough sleepers have been there. It has been vandalised. If something happens we are liable.

“Do we sit idly by and allow it to continue? Or should money be spent on the children?”

Cllr Edwards said there was “an overwhelming need for the executive board to reconsider the decision” and for public consultation to take place.

He added: “The building is at the heart of Wrexham in both senses.

“The public have their views and I believe we should listen to them.”

Responding, Cllr Pritchard again defended the speed of the process.

“There is asbestos in the building and we should move swiftly,” he said.

“I can sleep at night if I’ve removed the issues surrounding that building and I won’t apologise for it.

“Take emotion out of the debate.”

Holt Conservative councillor Michael Morris asked Cllr O’Toole whether sending the decision back to the executive board would just be an academic exercise.

She said the council had a duty to consult with the public and any consultation would help repair its reputation.

Gwersyllt Plaid councillor Arfon Jones asked Cllr Pritchard whether, if he could turn the clock back a month, he would make a different choice about consultation.

Cllr Pritchard said: “No, I made the right decision.”

He said he had received aggressive phone calls and threats over the decision, but said the pressure came with the responsibility of being council leader.

The vote to take the decision back to the executive board was lost, with five votes in favour and six against.

It is anticipated the building could be pulled down within nine weeks.

l Last November council leader Mark Pritchard said extensive interior and exterior damage meant demolition was a more viable option.

It was revealed at last month’s executive board meeting that mothballing the building for future use would cost at least £375,000, while demolishing part of the building but retaining the facade would cost £418,000.

An extra £155,000 per year would be required to maintain it before development went ahead.

See full story in the Leader

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