Wrexham council leader’s fury over ‘white elephant’ former school becoming listed

Reporter:

Jonathan Grieve

A decision to list the old Groves school has left Wrexham Council with a “white elephant” which could cost taxpayers an extra £100,000 in security costs.

That is the damning view of council leader Mark Pritchard, who said it looked likely the authority would be forced to employ a firm to put 24-hour security in place on the site in Powell Road after repeated problems with vandalism and homeless camps.

Cllr Pritchard said council representatives had looked into the cost and been quoted a figure of £100,000 per year to have a security presence on the site at all times.

The decision to list the school building was originally taken by Clwyd South AM Ken Skates last year in his capacity as Welsh Government secretary for economy and infrastructure, although that was overturned on appeal.

But fellow AM Mark Drakeford decided to re-list the school and in January it was announced the council had decided not to challenge the matter further.

Cllr Pritchard said: “It’s our land and our building so we will secure it as safely as possible.

“There has always been an issue with the Groves since it closed. It has been broken into on a number of occasions.

“We do have security on the site but to put 24-hour security there would cost us £100,000 a year.

“We have resisted that until now but it is coming to the point where I will be speaking to people with a view to making sure we have security on site at all times.

“I still feel it was an opportunity missed to put two brilliant new schools there. Ken Skates listed it and I wonder if he would be prepared to pay for the security which it looks like we are going to have to put on site.”

Cllr Pritchard said as well as being broken into repeatedly, there had been problems with youths climbing up onto the roof and a number of occasions where small homeless camps had been set up on the site.

He added: “That building is a money pit. While it stays empty, we will always have an issue with the site.

“We had a good plan to demolish the building and put 21st century schools in its place – wonderful buildings – but the minister decided because of pressure put on him by the Save Our Heritage campaign group to list it.

“I respect that but now he has a moral duty to find the money to invest in the building or allow us to demolish it. Ultimately I think the decision which was made was the wrong one and we have been left with a huge burden.

“The minister and the campaigners have left us with a white elephant on our hands.”

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.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “Responsibility for the maintenance and security of the building is a matter for the owner, which in this instance is the council.”

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