Ysgol Abersoch closure to go ahead after cabinet rejects committee’s concerns
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
Gwynedd Council’s cabinet has voted to reject the concerns of a backbench committee and will forge ahead with the closure of a seven pupil school.
Having already resolved in September to shut Ysgol Abersoch, the decision was batted back to decision makers last month after a key council committee flagged up concerns over the process.
Among issues highlighted by members of the Education and Economy Scrutiny Committee were that the report presented to the cabinet was “inaccurate and misleading in terms of the impact on the community,” as well as the Welsh language.
Backbench members also alleged that plans for a new hotel creating 40 jobs and land being earmarked for up to 15 new affordable homes had not been given proper consideration, while also questioning the decision to close the school in December and in the middle of the academic year.
But today’s (Tuesday) meeting saw the cabinet unanimously decide to press ahead with its original decision after concluding there was no viable future for the school and pupil numbers were unlikely to significantly rise.
With Ysgol Abersoch educating children only up to the end of school year three, where the pupils then move on to Ysgol Sarn Bach for the remainder of their primary education, the authority currently spends £17,404 per pupil compared to the county average of £4,198.
With its future has been described as “vulnerable for some time,” the report had recommended closure in December 2021.
But local councillor, Dewi Wyn Roberts, has consistently urged the cabinet to listen to the concerns of the local community, using Tuesday’s meeting to once again state his case.
Pointing to the potential for new jobs and housing in the village, he claimed that the education department’s report had not taken such prospects into account.
‘Impact on Welsh culture’
With concerns having been raised locally over the impact on Welsh culture in a village famed for its popularity as a second home hotspot and holiday resort, Cllr Roberts urged the cabinet to take into account the strength of feeling in the area.
But Cllr Cemlyn Williams, who holds the education portfolio, stated his view that the process had been fair.
Officers went on to point out that of the 26 eligible children living in the Ysgol Abersoch catchment area, 21 were currently attending other schools.
Other cabinet members stated their view that most hotel employees should be locally based, which would have a negligible effect on pupil numbers.
Regarding any potential housing developments – which Cllr Roberts claimed could see 15 affordable homes at Bryn Garmon – councillors were told that any talks were at an embryonic stage.
Cllr Craig ab Iago, who holds the housing portfolio, added his concern that people were “having their hopes raised” at plans which weren’t yet ready for the public domain.
Cllr Cemlyn Williams’ proposal to stick to the original decision was unanimously backed by cabinet members.
Set to close in December, the remaining pupils will be transferred 1.4 miles away to Ysgol Sarn Bach, where transport is already provided.
But following the decision, a spokesperson for pressure group Cymdeithas yr Iaith described the decision as “following the easy path of deserting the local community.”
Ffred Ffransis said: “It is so ironic that in the very week when a major rally is being held outside the Senedd in Cardiff to urge the Government to intervene in the housing market to ensure a future for communities like Abersoch, that the Cabinet of Gwynedd Council itself sinks those hopes by closing the school.
“It’s incredible that not a single member saw the value in the school as a focus for an agenda of rebuilding the local community.
“It was easier to give up on them rather than work with enthusiastic and ready partners among governors and parents.
“Thousands of words of heartfelt responses to the consultation changed nothing”