Council bosses defends controversial plans to replace Cathays High School building and velodrome
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
Council bosses in Cardiff have defended controversial plans to build a replacement Cathays High School and move a cycling track.
During the summer Cardiff council received more than 400 objections to the plans, including concerns over pupils coming from outside the catchment area to moving Maindy Velodrome.
But the current school buildings are ageing and overcrowded, and there are no sports pitches on site. The replacement plans will allow the school to expand, and also include pitches.
Save the Maindy Velodrome, a campaign group, is opposing the plans to move the cycling track to Cardiff Bay. Their concerns were addressed during a cabinet meeting on Thursday, October 14.
Councillor Sarah Merry, cabinet member for education, employment and skills, said: “Many of the comments and objections we’ve received are focused on the moving of the cycle track. I certainly don’t want to diminish or underplay any of those concerns.
“But the moving of the track will give us the opportunity to improve the facilities available for our cycling community and hopefully grow the sport. The two main clubs using the track support it and see it as an exciting opportunity.
“Some of the points made are contradictory, as we’ve had people claiming the site is too small overall even after moving the track, then you have others who have maintained there is no need to move the track to give you a site of sufficient size. But the moving of the track is absolutely imperative if we are to give the school the space that it needs.”
She also addressed concerns around pupils travelling to the school from outside the catchment area. Cathays High School has a high proportion of its pupils who live in other parts of Cardiff. But council bosses said the school’s catchment area is particularly small, and a revision of catchment areas across the city could be coming up in the near future.
She said: “We accept there is an issue with its current catchment area which is particularly small. It wouldn’t sustain a secondary school as it is. But many of our catchment areas are of widely differing sizes, they’re not perfectly formed or shaped with schools at the end at their catchment area. There will need to be a review of the catchment areas to make sure all of our schools are on a sustainable basis.
“Cathays was excluded for expansion exactly because of its central location, and it’s also well situated in terms of public transport. If we didn’t expand Cathays, you would have to have children crossing right across the city to access alternative provision.”
Another concern raised in the objections was around what will happen to the current school site. The replacement buildings will be built on the opposite side of Crown Way. Some people suggested the council was planning to sell the current site, after the old buildings are demolished. But Cllr Merry denied this and said it would be turned into sports pitches.
She said: “The old school site is not to be disposed of, despite some people suggesting to the contrary. That will become sports fields, which would be available for the community to use outside of school hours and weekends. There will also be the creation of a new green open access area, which I’m calling a park because that is essentially what it is.”
Council leader Huw Thomas said it was “unacceptable” to have Cathays High School as overcrowded as it is now. He added more details of the new velodrome will be revealed in December when the cabinet is expecting to sign off the full business case. And he claimed it was not far to travel from Maindy to the International Sports Village by bicycle.
He said: “What seems unacceptable to me is we have a school that is currently overcrowded, has no access on site to its own playing pitches, has a higher than average number of pupils on free school meals, and is probably one of the most ethnically diverse schools in Wales. I feel we have a serious duty to provide these pupils with the best possible education environment.
“I can remember nine years ago meeting with one of the local cycle clubs then, who were desperate to secure investment into the cycle track. That is precisely what we’re at last in a position to deliver and I’m no doubt it will make a significant positive impact on the uptake of cycling in the city both at grassroot levels and as a pipeline to elite level.
“From the Maindy Centre to the International Sports Village can be done in 20 minutes on a bike, largely on the Taff Trail.”