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Education Neath Port Talbot Politics South Wales

Future of Neath Port Talbot school to be discussed after ‘super school’ scrapped

QUESTIONS over the future of a Neath Port Talbot school and swimming pool have been raised this month, after the council scrapped plans for the controversial Swansea Valley ‘super school’ proposed for Pontardawe.

Proposals would have seen primary schools at Alltwen, Llangiwg and Godre’r Graig closed and replaced by a new school for 630 full-time pupils and 140 part-time nursery pupils, alongside a special learning centre if given the go-ahead by members.

Additionally, a public swimming pool on the site would have replaced the local swimming pool in the town, after the current building was given a maximum life-span of two years in December, 2022, due to structural issues.

The development would have also ended discussions over the future of Godre’r Graig primary school, which was closed in 2019, after fears about a nearby landslip forced students to be relocated to temporary portable classrooms in the area.

However, council bosses decided to scrap the proposals for the new school at a special cabinet meeting earlier this month, following emotive discussions with people in the Swansea Valley, and what was described as an “overwhelming” backlash from teachers, parents and residents.

Others questioned the impact the new school would have on Welsh language provision in the area, after an appeal launched by Welsh-medium education parents group Rhieni Dros Addysg Gymraeg was upheld in 2022.

While the decision not to take the school proposal forward was welcomed by many local residents, who argued the plans were unsuitable and damaging to education and community life in the Swansea Valley, it means that a number of questions will now be asked about the future of the two council-run buildings in the coming months.

These questions will involve concerns over safety as well as the delivery of key services in the borough, that opposition councillors say will not be easy for Neath Port Talbot’s rainbow coalition to solve.

The current situation with Godre’r Graig Primary

Even though the schools of Alltwen and Llangiwg are expected to carry on operating as normal following the council’s decision to scrap proposals for the new English medium school in Pontardawe, the future of Godre’r Graig Primary remains less clear, with councillors saying that a new solution will have to be found.

The school, based in Ystalyfera, has been closed since 2019 after the playground area was deemed at risk of landslide from the nearby Cilmaengwyn Tip, with pupils being taught in temporary portable classrooms in the years since.

While the permanent closure of Godre’r Graig and its subsequent amalgamation with the new school in Pontardawe would have negated this issue, other plans will now have to be looked at when it comes to the school re-opening in the future.

The council has previously agreed to pay around £20,000 to undertake an in-depth study, and to produce a plan of action for the nearby spoil tip with a number of options considered.

These could include removing the spoil material linked to the tip, as well as carrying out hard engineering, such as drainage work to protect Godre’r Graig Primary School from the slippage.

However, with the tip situated on private land and no potential costs yet brought forward, any plans to re-open or re-build on the site of the school could still be some time away.

Pontardawe swimming pool

The Pontardawe swimming pool was closed with immediate effect on November 30, 2022, after the discovery of serious defects relating to a void around the training pool and columns under spectator seating, as well as further deterioration of the structural concrete in pool tank walls, concrete soffits, and external concrete walls.

It was re-opened in January of 2023 after temporary repair work estimated to be worth around £141,000 was carried out, however it was noted by council bosses that this is not a permanent fix and would only last for a maximum of two years.

While a new pool would have also been opened as part of the new school project, and available to members of the public, councillors will now have to look for funding to build a new pool in the area, at a cost estimated by officers  to be around £13 million.

Speaking after the meeting, council leader Steve Hunt said that the longer term consequences of the decision would need to be given detailed consideration with further comment unlikely to be announced before the autumn.

He said: “We promised we would review this proposal and after listening to comprehensive advice from education officials and receiving the results of extensive consultation including face to face meetings from our residents, we have decided on balance not to progress the proposal.

“Our immediate focus will be on maintaining educational standards at the schools in Llangiwg, Alltwen and of course Godre’r Graig, where pupils are in temporary accommodation.”

Councillor Rob Jones, who is the leader of the Labour Party in Neath Port Talbot, said with no back up plans in place the decision did not make sense.

He said: “I think I can sum up the consequences of this decision in six words. No school, no pool, no plan. There was no alternative that came forward from the cabinet on these issues when rejecting the plans for this development, and it was the first time the cabinet have gone against officer recommendations without an alternative as well.

“There are massive consequences as there is currently no other money to build Godre’r Graig a new school. In my opinion the coalition has condemned pupils to be stuck in those portable classrooms for a further four years, as that’s how long it could take to build a new school on top of the time required for them to actually find the funding. It’s likely that Pontardawe could lose the swimming pool as well because officers have told us that there is no money to fund a new facility here either.”