Plans for new Welsh language school hits roadblock

Brackla Field – copyright: Alan Drury

Hannah Neary, local democracy reporter

Plans for a new Welsh medium primary school have hit a roadblock after the site it was going to be built on was deemed unsuitable.

Bridgend County Borough Council (BCBC) will reconsider its plans after the feasibility study has found a piece of council-owned land in Brackla, Bridgend, would not be suited to the development the school, which the council aims to deliver.

A report by Lindsay Harvey, the council’s corporate director for education and family support, urges the council to discount the site and “explore alternative options” for the new primary school.

The council hopes to rebuild local primary school Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Ogwr and had agreed to undertake a feasibility study of land at Brackla Hill, which it had selected as a possible site for the proposed development.

Thousands of locals had objected to the council’s aim of building a school on the land on the grounds it would take away much-loved green space which is used by many.

Brackla resident Alan Drury said “The pandemic has proven to us that spaces like the open greenfield sites in Brackla are vital for our health and wellbeing.

“We are grateful to Welsh Government and Bridgend Council for listening to the voice of the community.”

‘Public open space’

Mr Harvey’s report reads: “Despite the aim of only using as much of the site as was necessary for the development of the school, with an area of land being retained for use by the community, there would be a significant reduction in the amount of public open space available on the site.

“In order to develop the site it would be necessary to undertake significant earthworks, which would involve a cut and fill operation.

“This would impact on the amount of construction traffic associated with developing the site, which would likely cause significant disruption and inconvenience to residents, the neighbouring school and the Brackla community.”

The report also states “substantial” costs and time would be required to develop the project and it could also create “significant” storm water run-off.”

More than 2,500 people signed an online petition in opposition to the council’s plans to build on the site along with another 2,500 hard copy signatures.

Six months ago, Mr Drury set up Save Our Fields, a local campaign group advocating against the proposed development.

He said: “It’s nice to see the result of six months’ hard campaigning come to fruition.

“It proves what the community can achieve by coming together as one voice.”

He also said he wanted to thank the Save Our Fields group and wider Brackla community for supporting the campaign and hopes the council will give “consideration to green spaces” when it comes to future planning decisions.

Brackla resident Mark Payn, who also supported the Save Our Fields campaign, said he “couldn’t be any happier” with the fact a school will not be built on Brackla Hill.

‘New school’

He said he often uses the land for exercise with his family and thanked local councillors from all parties who were “very helpful and informative” when discussing the potential use of the site for a new school.

“I’m glad we’ve reached that conclusion and hopefully it’ll have a ripple effect going forward in Bridgend county when it comes to planning decisions and green space within communities.

“Hopefully it’s something that BCBC are going to take a bit more seriously going forward, especially off the back of the pandemic as well when we’re realising how important these close green spaces are to us and our health and wellbeing.”

Mr Payn, who has lived in the area for around 40 years, hopes the council will prioritise open spaces in its next local development plan, which sets out its planning strategy over the next few years.

Clr Tom Giffard, leader of BCBC’s Conservative Group, said: “It was clear from the outset that this was a completely inappropriate site for this development, given how well-used it is by the community.

“I’m therefore pleased the council have listened to calls from myself and the public and look set to ditch these plans.”

Carwyn Jones, MS for Bridgend, tweeted: “The publication of the feasibility study regarding the proposal to build a new school on the Brackla Hill site is welcome.

“I look forward to the cabinet confirming the decision. I have worked with BCBC to identify alternative brownfield sites for the new Welsh-medium school and am confident that a school can be delivered close to the original timescale through utilising one of those sites.

“The next task is to get the school built on a more suitable site that enjoys community support and I will be working with BCBC to deliver that project.”

The council’s cabinet will discuss its next move regarding the new primary school during a meeting on Tuesday February 9.

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