Campaigners given more time to object to closure of Welsh language school
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
A window to object to the planned closure of a Gwynedd primary school has been extended by council chiefs following pressure by language campaigners.
Last November saw the council cabinet vote to press on with the closure of the 10- pupil Ysgol Abersoch – which serves children up to the end of school year three – with the statutory notice now out to public consultation.
But a decision has been made to extend the window for objections.
The original consultation was launched on January 5 and designed to run until February 16.
But this was condemned by campaigners including Cymdeithas yr Iaith, who claimed it did not provide enough opportunity for people to respond due to the current lockdown and general public health crisis.
Last week a spokesman for the authority said they were “confident” that the process was being conducted in accordance with the requirements of the code, particularly amendments announced in July in response to the pandemic.
But it has now been revealed that the process has now been reset, with the window extended by a week to allow responses up to February 23.
In a letter, the authority noted that to “avoid any doubt or oversight,” a decision had been made to republish the consultation up to 1pm on February 23.
Cymdeithas claim that the Education Minister’s decision to amend the Schools Organisation Code was “unlawful” as she failed to explain why the decision was “appropriate and proportionate”.
But responding to the authority’s decision, Cymdeithas chair Mabli Siriol said, “It’s completely unfair to consult on the future of schools such as Abersoch while schools are closed as a result of a health crisis; this is an additional concern and burden on parents, governors and the children themselves.
“However, we have decided not to pursue legal avenues due to the possibility that the school closure period could be over before a decision on a legal case could be reached, as well as our wish to avoid exacerbating this current uncertainty.
“We therefore ask, in the name of justice, that local authorities take account, when considering the conclusions of consultations, the limited opportunity of children, parents and the communities.
“The odds are stacked against these village communities, and we call on everyone to support them.”
According to council number crunchers the school currently costs the authority £17,404 per head – over four times the county average of £4,198.
If the school does close this summer, pupils from the village would instead be offered transport for the daily 1.4 mile journey to Ysgol Sarn Bach.
A Gwynedd Council spokesman said, “We remain of the view that the consultation process on the future of Ysgol Abersoch announced on 5 January 2021 is valid, but for the avoidance of doubt or error we have re-issued the consultation.
“The statutory consultation is now running from 12 January 2021 until 1pm on 23 February 2021.
“We also plan to hold a virtual ‘drop in’ session for parents, staff and governors of Ysgol Abersoch over the coming weeks to offer them the opportunity to ask any questions.
“At the end of the process, all comments received will be considered before submitting a further report to the Council’s Cabinet which will report on the responses received and to decide whether or not to proceed with the proposal.”