Delay new Welsh school due to ‘soaring costs,’ call
Katy Jenkins, Local Democracy Reporter
Plans for a new Welsh school should be delayed in the face of soaring costs a councillor has argued, as Pembrokeshire county Council’s cabinet pushes ahead with the project.
An extraordinary cabinet meeting was held yesterday, October 17, to amend the business plan for a Welsh primary school in Pembroke.
Pembrokeshire County Council had been due to receive 100 per cent capital grant funding of more than £6.5million to build Ysgol Bro Penfro but costs have now risen to nearly £14million.
A report to cabinet states that an uplift to the capital grant to just over £9million has been agreed, leaving a shortfall of £4.8million.
There is a risk this could rise even further, with contractors Morgan Sindall undertaking a “mini tender” but to suspend the plan would mean no further business cases being considered by Welsh Government and “suspend the council’s agreed Band B programme.”
This could impact improvements planned for Portfield School, cabinet heard.
The report notes that some of the shortfall can be met by Section 106 money and a £1.25million underspend on the work to increase capacity at Ysgol Caer Elen.
Development of the school, with 201 full-time places for ages three to 11 and 30 nursery places to meet the Welsh in Education Strategic Plan (WESP) targets, was approved by the council in 2020 on the assumption of 100 per cent grant funding.
Cllr Tessa Hodgson voiced serious concerns about the spiralling costs and said much of it was down to a “poor site selection” with the impact on Band B case consideration a “threat” by Welsh Government.
She also highlighted the impact on the revenue budget and how that will affect service provision, “when it can least afford it.”
“That’s not necessarily the end of the story, there’s a huge likelihood that these costs will increase further,” said Cllr Hodgson, who called on the project to be delayed until the market was more stable.
It was argued that approving the contract as soon as possible would lock in the price and delaying could lead to further increases, with value engineering to keep costs down a key part of the contractors planning.
The final tender price will be known at the end of the month with Morgan Sindall tasked with trying to “keep the revised price as close to the price reported at Cabinet.”
‘Held to ransom’
Cllr Alec Cormack said he backed the recommendation with a “heavy heart” while council leader Cllr David Simpson said he too shared some of Cllr Hodgson’s concerns, adding “we are being held to ransom a bit here.”
New capital project costs of £13,985,818 for Ysgol Bro Penfro – with the increase of £4,437,815 to be met by the council – and that Welsh Government be requested to provide the projected underspend of £1.250,000 from the second tranche of the Welsh medium capital grant was approved.
There were five votes for, Cllr Hodgson voted against, and Cllr Jon Harvey had to abstain as he missed the beginning of the debate.
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