FIRST Minister Carwyn Jones has voiced his concerns over plans to demolish Wrexham’s former Groves school.
Heritage groups and former pupils are opposing a decision to knock down the building in Powell Road, which was taken by the council’s executive board without public consultation.
Mr Jones, who visted Wrexham and Flintshire yesterday, said it was important for the council to retain landmark buildings in the town.
He said: “I am surprised there has been no consultation but I think we have lost so many buildings in the past. The town I’m from, Bridgend, lost a lot of its buildings including its town hall in the 1970s. The late 60s and early 70s were a decade of madness when it came to town planning.
“I think it is really important that even where a school is no longer used as a school, the building is used for the community. People love their landmarks, they love the heritage that they see in town centres and it is important that we don’t lose that.”
Over the weekend, protestors tied hearts, roses and ribbons to railings outside the school.
Campaigners gathered outside the old Groves school for the second time in recent weeks to voice their displeasure at the decision to tear down the building.
The site is the subject of a covenant earmarking it for educational use and the local authority plans to build a new school on the site.
A motion to ‘call-in’ the executive board decision to demolish the school was narrowly defeated – by six votes to five – by the customer and performance scrutiny committee.
The decision to demolish the Groves building was taken late last month at an executive board meeting.
Other options had been discussed, such as demolishing part of the building but retaining the facade at a cost of £418,000, as well as an extra £155,000 per year to protect it while waiting for development to go ahead, and retaining and mothballing the site at a cost of £375,000.
Just a few days’ notice was given of the proposal, and no public consultation was undertaken ahead of the executive board vote.
Once demolished, the council plans to build a new school on the site to meet increasing demand as Wrexham’s population is expected to grow by about 20,000 by 2028, with between 10-15,000 new homes to be built across the area during that time.
Members of Wrexham’s administration have confirmed that the former Groves site is to be redeveloped for education purposes only, as per the covenants that exist on this piece of land, and not for commercial, retail or housing purposes.
Cllr Mark Pritchard, leader of the council, said: “Now that the matter called in by scrutiny committee who took the decision not to refer the matter back to the executive board is complete, it is appropriate that the current administration give the assurance to members of the public that the former Groves school site will not be used for anything other than educational purposes.
“This is in accordance with the educational covenants placed there many years ago which I believe were visionary for the future of education in Wrexham .
“The council is currently in negotiations to bring a new school to the site. Until the details are confirmed it is not possible to say anything further about what type of school that will be.
“The administration recognises that this matter has been very emotive for some people and would like to assure them and all other members of the public that the future provision of schools that are fit purpose in the 21st century is a priority for us and one which we do not undertake lightly.
“Providing our young people with an environment that meets that need and helps them achieve their full potential is essential to achieving that priority.
“Sometimes, particularly with the unprecedented financial challenges the council is facing,it is necessary to take difficult decisions. This was one of those decisions, however, to do nothing with a site that was mothballed at considerable cost to the public purse was not an option we were prepared to consider.
“I look forward to announcing further details about plans for the site in the very near future.”
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