EARLY stage proposals for a number of major school building and refurbishment projects have been given the green light by Neath Port Talbot Council this week, including a new-build replacement for Godre’rgraig Primary School which was evacuated in 2019 because of landslip fears.
Neath Port Talbot Council’s cabinet met on November 20, to discuss a series of ambitious new school submissions to be included in the Welsh Government’s Sustainable Communities for Learning funding programme.
The project is part of a long-term investment for schools and colleges from the Welsh Government, aimed to develop them as hubs for learning and to reduce buildings in poor condition.
While the plans were approved unanimously by members in attendance, officers were keen to note that this was a submission for the early stages of the overall plan to Welsh Government, adding that details of individual projects would also have to be submitted and approved at a later date.
Most notably, one submission will propose a new-build, English-medium school worth £17 million, to replace the closed Godre’rgraig Primary School on Gnoll Road, to provide 210 full-time and 30 part-time nursery places.
The school has been at the centre of debate in recent years after it was closed in 2019, following fears of a landslip from a nearby quarry spoil tip which forced students to relocate to temporary portable classrooms on the sports field adjoining Cwmtawe Community School.
There had been a solution to the issue, though it was one that few people were happy with. It came in the form of proposals put forward by the then Labour-run council to close three primary schools at Alltwen, Llangiwg and Godre’rgraig, replacing them with a new facility for 630 full-time pupils and 140 part-time nursery pupils alongside a special learning centre on land at Parc Ynysderw.
However, the new rainbow coalition in charge of the council following the most recent local government elections decided to scrap those proposals earlier this year, following what was described as an “overwhelming” backlash from teachers, parents and residents who argued the plans were unsuitable and damaging to education and community life in the Swansea Valley.
With this early stage of approval now granted by the council, the plans will go before the Welsh Government for acceptance, in what could be one way out of a multi-million pound headache they face with the children of Godre’rgraig still based in temporary classrooms.
Council leader for Neath Port Talbot Steve Hunt said even though the plans were still in the early stages, he was confident that officers would be able to deliver a strong case to Welsh Government.
He said: “I have the utmost confidence in the officers in this authority to deliver a prudent, strong business case, to deliver what the Swansea Valley wants, and I’m hoping that we will have good news in the future as we move forward in the process.”
Though Labour leader for Neath Port Talbot Rob Jones was eager to note that there was still a lot of work to be done before construction on any of the schools could actually start, adding that there was no guarantee the plans would be passed by Welsh Government at this early stage, or even once further details were brought forward.
He said: “I think it’s very important we emphasise that whilst it may be approved by cabinet today, its still got to be approved by Welsh Government and then there’s a lot of water that’s got to go under this bridge before any formulation or recommendations come back to council to further pursue these.
“I just wanted to make that clear, because I wouldn’t want any communities to think they’re having new schools, new extensions, new refurbishments, when at the moment we’re just opening the gate to pursue those.”
Meanwhile there were three other funding requests included within the proposals which will also go to Welsh Government ministers for approval before funding is granted.
These include a £10 million extension added to Ysgol Maes Y Coed Special School in Bryncoch, to allow the site to take in 40 extra pupils who would benefit from the specialist facilities there.
There was also a £9 million proposal for a complete refurbishment of the vacated Education, Library and Resource Service (ELRS) building at Reginald Street, Port Talbot. And finally, a £17 million replacement single-site school for Ysgol Hendrefelin Special School, which is a maintained community special school currently based on three sites.
A spokesperson for Neath Port Talbot Council previously said: “Under the Sustainable Communities for Learning programme, the Welsh Government provides 75% funding of special school projects and 65% for all others, with the remaining funding provided by the council.
“If approval is given then officers will be able to submit a variation request asking for the additional schemes to be included in the council’s capital programme, and for the Swansea Valley scheme to be removed following the determination in March, 2023, not to progress the project.
“If the request is then approved by Welsh Government, each new scheme will need to be developed in more detail, with a full business case submitted before any funding is agreed.”