Listed status verdict could decide Wrexham school site’s fate

Reporter:

Geraint Jones

THE future of a former Wrexham school under threat of demolition now rests on whether or not it becomes a listed building.

Wrexham Council’s executive board yesterday backed leader Cllr Mark Pritchard’s recommendation to await a decision from Welsh Government historic environment body Cadw on the Groves School site on Powell Road before going ahead.

He said: “If the Welsh Government do decide to list the building, we will have to reconsider and consider the implications of that course of action, but in the interim it is my intention only to seek to remove the asbestos from the building in the interests of public safety.

“Any decision will await a decision on the listing, but if the decision is not to list, my recommendation is the decision of the executive board in January to demolish will still stand.”

The vote came after 14 backbench councillors signed a motion calling for the board to reconsider its decision to demolish the building.

Labour councillor Dana Davies, one of the signatories, mentioned the proposed three phase deal with Coleg Cambria to redevelop the school building, install sports facilities and to erect further buildings on site.

She asked why the decision to change policy in favour of retaining the site for new primary schools had been taken at the November 2015 board meeting before Coleg Cambria had discussed options and costings.

The councillor also asked whether the “recent quick decision” to demolish had anything to do with the £1.5 million asset and economic development budget being allocated for the arts and cultural hub in the town centre.

Cllr Pritchard (Ind) said the building had been empty for 12 to 14 years and there had been debates on the issue for years. 

He insisted the decision had not been rushed.

He said Wrexham Council had spent £900,000 on the building and there were health and safety issues involved.

People were running along the roof and stealing copper and flooring, Cllr Pritchard said, and police were investigating three break-ins over the weekend.

“That’s why we feel we need to deal with the issue. We can’t ignore it,” he added

“In the past - and I can’t speak for those individuals – it was ignored and we just let it stand there. We have to deal with it.”

The council leader added emails between officers made it clear Coleg Cambria was no longer interested in the site.

Coleg Cambria had informed Steve Bayley, the council’s heading of housing and economy, that it could not progress with phases two and three of its development project, Cllr Pritchard said.

But Cllr Malcolm King (Lab) added his reading of the emails was that the college was “not quite sure of its finances” and it “could not be absolutely certain about subsequent phases of the plan”.

“But neither could we, neither could any other public body be certain about subsequent phases of plans to do with major finance,” he said

Cllr King said it seemed the decision had been made “somewhat prematurely, rather than continuing with the strategic plan of having that partnership”.

He added he did not recall anywhere in the emails where Coleg Cambria said it did not want the site.

Negotiations are being held for St Mary’s Catholic Primary School to move to the site, and Cllr Pritchard added the education department was looking to put a total of two or three primary schools on the site.

Cllr King said his reading of the situation was that the covenant stipulated that the site was for secondary and further education which would rule out primary schools.

He added: “I wonder whether the Catholic church or the governors know whether or not the covenant may not allow a primary school to be there - also whether, politically, the only way to get it was to knock down a very special part of Wrexham’s heritage?”

Cllr Michael Williams (Ind), lead member for education, said officers had told him the covenant made provision for a county school.

“We have county primaries and county secondaries, so there appears to be no conflict between the wording of the covenant and the education department’s decision to use the site for primary education.”

He added Cadw had twice refused listed status and referred to an inspection which concluded the site was “not especially remarkable” architecturally and was “not of sufficient architectural quality” to meet listing criteria.

He also mentioned the anticipated growth in primary school numbers in the next five years.

 Ken Skates, Deputy minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, has previously told the Leader campaigners trying to save the Groves building had made a spot-listing request which was now being considered by Cadw.

 He said: “The Historic Environment Bill [now awaiting Royal assent] does include a measure allowing Welsh Ministers to make regulations for the creation of preservation notices. These will improve protection for Wales’ precious listed buildings.”

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