Groves spared demolition but Wrexham Council says decision is a ‘hammer blow’ to education

Reporter:

Jonathan Grieve

The old Groves school is finally safe from demolition as Wrexham Council announced it will not pursue a further legal challenge.

Describing the decision as a “hammer blow” to the authority’s plans for the future of education in Wrexham, council leader Mark Pritchard said he and his executive board colleagues were bitterly disappointed at the outcome. 

Cllr Pritchard, senior councillors and council officers took legal advice over the festive period to determine whether or not to challenge the decision to re-list the building.

The council had previously managed to get its listed status overturned but will not be taking the same course of action this time.

Cllr Pritchard said: “Following the decision of Mark Drakeford AM, cabinet secretary for finance and local government, to relist the former Groves School, I presented a report to the December meeting of the executive board of the council requesting the delegated authority – in consultation with the head of corporate and customer services, the executive director for place and economy, and also the deputy leader and the lead member for children’s services and education – to determine whether or not to challenge the listing of the Groves following the council’s successful challenge to the first listing.

“I requested this delegation as the council only had until January 9 to challenge this second decision, during which time there was no Executive Board meeting scheduled and I wished to take expert professional advice before a decision was taken.

 “I have now received advice from senior legal officers and counsel on the prospect of mounting a second successful challenge to the second minister’s decision.

“That advice has revealed that the reasoning used to justify the second listing is stronger than that of the previous minister, making any successful challenge less certain, this despite the fact that neither minister followed their professional advisers’ views that the building was not worthy of listing. 

“I always pay due regard to professional advice and reluctantly, therefore, I will not pursue this when the prospects of success are less certain.”

Last November, the original 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 grant 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 last year at an executive board meeting after the council withdrew from negotiations to sell the building to Coleg Cambria.

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. If it had been demolished, the council had planned to build two new schools on the site to meet increasing demand.

Cllr Pritchard added: “I and my colleagues on the executive board are, of course, bitterly disappointed by this turn of events, not least because this deals a hammer blow to the council’s plans for 21st century education provision for the children of this county borough.

“It has always been our intention to stop the spending of public money on the upkeep of the building – by the end of this financial year, the council will already have spent more than £1 million from the budget for education on maintaining and securing the school building – and to create two new schools on the site of the former Groves, suitable for delivering modern education to the children of Wrexham.

“We have said throughout the discussion over the future of the Groves that we are committed to the delivery of education on the site – but have also noted that this building, as it stands, is ill-suited to the needs of modern, 21st century, primary school education.

“It is now difficult to see what beneficial use this building can be put to in its listed state and with the stringent restrictive covenants severely limiting its future use.

“Having said this, I will now be pressing for early discussions with Welsh ministers to identify what support, including financial provision, they will be offering to the council both to carry out a full feasibility study to assess and cost the works necessary to give this building a meaningful, beneficial use for the future and to carry out the execution of such works.

“Now that the building is listed, it will cost the council huge sums of money to preserve it, and we urge the Welsh Government to support us in that.”

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