Moves to grant delegated powers to decide whether to pursue a legal challenge over the latest decision to grant listed status to the old Groves school in Wrexham have been branded ‘undemocratic’.
Wrexham Council executive board members yesterday voted unanimously to approve recommendations to grant powers to leader of the council Cllr Mark Pritchard, deputy leader Cllr Ian Roberts, and Cllr Michael Williams, lead member for children’s services and education.
The executive board meeting at the Guildhall heard senior figures including Cllr Pritchard claim the move was necessary as a decision could be needed over the Christmas break.
But some members expressed concern decisions were being taken behind closed doors without the full facts being made public.
Cllr Alun Jenkins said: “I’m at a loss to understand what is going on with the Groves or the reasoning behind it.
“The whole thing smacks of the hokey cokey – it is a farce.
“Matters are likely to move on very quickly and my concern is granting delegated powers means this would not come back before the council.”
Cllr Jenkins said the current executive board operated in a way where the council had 10 members who knew what was going on and made all the decisions, while the remaining 42 were kept in the dark and were treated as second class citizens.
He added: “I’ve got an awful feeling and things could escalat. I don’t know what the council would be facing financially if we went through with this challenge.
But Cllr Pritchard said the tight timeframe to decide whether to challenge the decision meant it was necessary to delegate powers.
He added: “We’ll keep you informed when information comes in. My position is clear. Our aspirations for that site are to put one or two schools on there.
“We have a desire to put two 21st century schools and the site and we have not moved away from that.
“This isn’t about demolishing a school or winning a debate. I personally believe in improving education facilities across the county.
“I’m happy to furnish members with the information when it comes in.”
Cllr Malcolm King queried whether any thought had been given to a need for new secondary schools in the future.
But Cllr Williams said they had not planned that far ahead and would deal with the issue in the future.
Cllr Dana Davies accused Cllr Pritchard of having already made up his mind to legally challenge the listing, while Cllr Brian Cameron said consultation with the public about the plans to demolish the building had been non-existant.
But Cllr Pritchard refuted Cllr Davies’ claims.
Last month, the decision to grant grade-II listed status to the building in Powell Road, Wrexham, was overturned following a judicial review, with Ken Skates, Welsh Government cabinet secretary for economy and infrastucture, told to revisit his decision.
But finance and local government minister, Prof Mark Drakeford, backed Mr Skates and decided to bestow listed status on the building once again – with immediate effect.
Wrexham Council successfully challenged the previous decision, resulting in it being quashed by Judicial Review.
The site is the subject of a covenant earmarking it for educational use.
The original decision to demolish the Groves building was taken in January at an executive board meeting after the council withdrew from negotiations to sell the building to Coleg Cambria.
A motion to ‘call in’ the executive board decision to demolish the school was narrowly defeated by the council’s customer and performance scrutiny committee.
Other options discussed included demolishing part of the building but retaining the facade at £418,000, as well as an extra £155,000 per year to protect it while waiting for any development to go ahead, and retaining and mothballing the site for £375,000.
Once demolished, the council plans to build two new schools on the site to meet increasing demand.
Members of Wrexham’s administration have confirmed the former Groves site is to be redeveloped for education purposes only, as per the covenants that exist on the land.
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