Listed status for Wrexham's Groves school to be challenged by council

Reporter:

Rory Sheehan

A DECISION to award listed building status to a much-loved former school building is to be challenged in the courts.

Executive board members on Wrexham Council have opted to take issue with a verdict on the Groves building taken by Ken Skates, Welsh Government Cabinet Member for the economy and infrastructure.

Mr Skates, AM for Clwyd South, announced last month that the Groves building on Powell Road, Wrexham, was being awarded listed status by the organisation Cadw for its special architectural interest on the grounds of its quality and character.

But leading councillors at a closed meeting of the council’s executive board yesterday voted to mount a legal challenge to the building’s listed status.

The council’s appeal will now be heard in due course at the Administrative Court for Wales, a branch of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court, which has powers of judicial review.

A decision on the case is expected in about four to six months, depending on the court’s backlog of work.

Councillors say they looked at the risks and cost of a challenge against the ongoing expense of maintaining and using the building, taking account of both its listed status and the covenants affecting its use.

The council had strongly resisted the listing of the building, having previously voted to demolish it and build one or two primary schools on the site, to be funded from the 

21st century schools programme post-2019.

The report delivered at the meeting outlined the options available to the council and the events leading up to Mr Skates’ decision.

Councillors said Mr Skates’ decision to list the building was contrary to expert evidence and as such, the building did not meet the criteria for listing, so a challenge was justifiable.

The councillors also looked at the ongoing cost of maintaining the building and what impact this would have on its education budget as a whole.

Council leader Mark Pritchard said: “It is strongly felt the cabinet secretary’s decision is flawed and does not take into account Welsh Government advice and that of experts involved in the process.

“We do not believe it has been listed in the national interest or in accordance with the guidance used to make such decisions.”

The decision has sparked outrage from the Save Our Heritage group which for months has been campaigning to save the building from demolition.

A group spokesman said: “Save Our Heritage is extremely disappointed. We feel it is disrespectful to the residents of Wrexham to use tens of thousands of pounds of public money to challenge the Welsh Government listing decision.”

A number of councillors strongly opposed the exclusion of the press and public from the meeting, saying the issue was in the public interest. However the council’s legal officer, Trevor Coxon, said: “In this instance the report contains legal advice on the merits or otherwise of challenging the decision by the Cabinet Secretary.

“Legal advice given to a client by a solicitor is covered by legal informational privilege. The client, in this case the members here, are entitled to receive their advice in private without the public being here.”

Wrexham AM Lesley Griffiths was also critical of the decision and particularly the apparent lack of transparency over the issue, adding: “The former Grove Park School is an important site in the centre of Wrexham and from the very beginning of this saga, I have been calling for greater transparency and for an open consultation process to take place.

“Unfortunately, a number of councillors, relevant stakeholders and the people of Wrexham have been kept in the dark.

“I will continue to represent my constituents and I also believe local taxpayers would prefer to see their council spending money on vital public services, rather than making costly legal challenges.”

A spokesman for Wrexham Council said a challenge to Cadw’s decision had to be made within six weeks of the building being listed, which was the reason for the executive board special meeting yesterday.

The work of the the Administrative Court for Wales includes looking at the lawfulness of the acts of local and central government, regulatory and disciplinary bodies and other public bodies exercising public functions.

See full story in the Leader

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