Plans for super school in Pontardawe rejected
Lewis Smith, local democracy reporter
Neath Port Talbot Council has rejected controversial proposals for a Swansea Valley super school in Pontardawe.
The long standing plans would have seen primary schools at Alltwen, Llangiwg and Godre’rgraig closed and replaced by a new school for 630 full-time pupils, 140 part-time nursery age pupils, alongside a special learning centre and public swimming pool if given the go-ahead.
Council bosses voted against the development, following a lengthy discussion that included concerns over school transport, educational standards, and the impact on the community.
Members also heard how the plans, which had been the cause of emotive discussions for people in the Swansea Valley, had been met with “overwhelming” backlash from teachers, parents and residents who had all rejected the plans.
This was supported by a report on the public consultation, which indicated that the majority of residents in the area were against the development, with 576 of a total 816 responses deemed to be against them, compared with 201 for, and 39 unsure.
Others questioned the impact the new school would have on the Welsh language in the area, after an appeal launched by Welsh-medium education parents group named Rhieni Dros Addysg Gymraeg were upheld in 2022 – before cabinet members of the council’s rainbow coalition eventually refused the officers recommendations.
Speaking during the meeting council leader Steve Hunt said the decision was not taken lightly. He said: “The rainbow coalition was committed to reviewing the original decision to establish a new school in place of Godre’rgraig, Llangiwg and Alltwen, and to listen carefully to the views of the community.
“I am confident we have embarked on a wide-ranging consultation, this new consultation of course being necessary because the initial decision was halted by the judicial review.”
Deputy leader Alun Llewelyn added: “The school communities, parents, pupils, and governors are very knowledgeable about the proposals but remain opposed to taking primary education from their communities.
“Despite fully considering the issues raised here today and taking on board the professional views of officers and their detailed advice, for the reasons I have just identified I do not feel this is a proposal I can support.”
For Labour leader Rob Jones, however he felt the decision was a missed opportunity. He said: “Personally I think it’s the wrong decision. The 21st Century Schools programme is about the education it delivers, not where the education is given, and the opportunity for delivering excellent education in Neath Port Talbot, as has been proved by the 10 schools that we’ve already developed, has been missed.”
Sioned Williams Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd for South Wales West, however, welcomed news, saying: “I am pleased to hear that councillors voted against the proposals to create a huge new super primary school in Pontardawe. This is a vote of confidence in the well-performing and viable schools, which would have been closed if these proposals had gone ahead.
“This proposal was no different from the one that was rejected by the vast majority of those who responded to last consultation, and the second consultation showed clearly that the opinions of most parents, residents and local representatives had not changed.”
The decision to refuse the proposals will now be subject to a three-day call in by members, and will undoubtedly lead to a number of follow up discussions on the future of education and leisure in the Swansea Valley.
These will include decisions on the future of Pontardawe swimming pool, which was recently given a maximum two year life-span because of structural issues, as it would have been replaced by a swimming pool within the new school plans.
Additionally, issues with Godre’rgraig Primary School, where children have been based in temporary porto cabins for several years due to the risk of a landslide from the nearby mountainside, will also have to be addressed.
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