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Swansea valley residents oppose school demolition plan

Godre'Rgraig Primary School

A COMMUNITY in the Swansea valley has come together to show their opposition over plans to demolish a local primary school.

Godre’r Graig Primary School, based in Neath Port Talbot, was closed in 2019 after fears of a landslide from a nearby quarry tip with students relocated to temporary portable classrooms on the sports field at Cwmtawe Community School.

They have remained here ever since while members of the local council try to find a solution for the students in the school that is currently without a school building.

However Neath Port Talbot council say with request in place for funding for a new-build £17m school they are about to begin demolition of the site in March though some residents and parents say the decision makes no sense until the funding is approved.

Other options included the removal of the tip, which a 2021 report commissioned by the council estimated would cost around £6m, or the building of a retaining structure above the school to catch any falling material though the council say these had both been ruled out.

Those speaking out against the plans this month have suggested that there has been a lack of communication from the local authority with members of a local campaign group adding how they felt there had also been a lack of clarity over why certain decisions had been made.

They held a community gathering this week outside the school in Godre’r Graig where more than 80 locals turned up to show support for the building, which was described as being the heart of the village.

Leanne Vaughan Philipps is a resident who lives nearby and has had two children attend the school over the years and says the community wanted more answers before the school was brought down.

She said: “The school was absolutely thriving here before it was shut down and it’s heartbreaking to see it set for demolition because it was so good and always at  the heart of the village with school fates and get togethers.

“We’ve fought this from the off and the more we’ve looked in to this decision the more we think it doesn’t make any sense. From what we can see in the reports there is a very low risk of a landslide and we think that demolishing the building without any further monitoring is an over-reaction.”

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Susie Davies is the chair of governors at Godre’r Graig Primary School and said there were still “unanswered questions” when it came to the demolition of the site.

She said: “There are a lot of unanswered questions about the events leading up to the school being closed and then what’s happened since. None of it makes much sense and it doesn’t appear as though there’s a great risk.

“It’s also premature to demolish it when we don’t have an alternative home to go to at the moment. They have applied for Welsh Government funding for a new school but it hasn’t been confirmed and it leaves us in a very precarious position.

“I think everyone in the school from parents, teachers, and staff are worried as we don’t have a clear plan of what’s going to happen. We are in support of a new building because that would secure the future of this school and for English-medium education in the north of the valley but we don’t know if it’s going to happen yet.”

Peter Ryan, who is a member of the local campaign group to save the school, added that they had also handed in a complaint to the ombudsman in recent weeks seeking clarity over the situation.

He said: “We would like some answers to what the issues are and why the issues can’t be solved. From our point of view there doesn’t seem any logical reason to demolish the school and not look at keeping it for alternative uses even if the funding is eventually found to build a replacement school.

“The building is literally the heart of the village, having been there since 1908, and is the only community building here so we would like a response from the local authority.”

A Neath Port Talbot Council spokesman said: “Pupils at Godre’rGraig Primary School were evacuated to demountable classrooms at Cwmtawe Community School in 2019 after geological experts Earth Science Partnership (ESP) alerted Neath Port Talbot Council to a risk to the school from a quarry spoil tip on land above the school.

“Members of Neath Port Talbot Council’s environment, regeneration, and streetscene services cabinet board meeting on Friday, December 2, 2022, approved plans to demolish the school after alternatives including removal of the quarry spoil tip and the building of a retaining structure above the school to catch any falling material were ruled out.

“Public meetings were held to explain the situation. An evidence-based decision was made by the members. The council commissioned and received various technical documents from independent technical specialists to advise on the risks posed to the continued occupation of the school building.

“On November 20, 2023, the council’s cabinet agreed to seek permission – via education officials – for plans for a new-build, English-medium, £17m replacement for Godre’rgraig Primary School at Gnoll Road, Godre’rgraig, providing 210 full-time and 30 part-time nursery places to be included in the Welsh Government’s Sustainable Communities for Learning funding programme (formerly known as 21st Century Schools). That process is continuing.”