South Wales West MS Sioned Williams has voiced her objection to plans put forward in a new report that once again recommends closure of Swansea Valley schools.
On 20th October 2021, following a public campaign and intense debate that saw councillors of Swansea Valley communities make passionate pleas on behalf of their residents, the previous Labour Cabinet of Neath Port Talbot Council approved a proposal to close Alltwen Primary, Godre’rgraig Primary and Llangiwg Primary and establish a new 3-11 super school in Pontardawe.
Despite an overwhelmingly negative response from the affected communities in a public consultation, the then Labour-run authority decided to press ahead with their plans. In the months that followed, the community continued with their protest and parents within the community were supported by RhAG, a Welsh-medium education group, to launch a successful judicial review on the grounds of that the Council did not conduct an assessment on the impact to Welsh-medium education in the area which made the consultation unlawful.
In May 2022, Labour lost control of Neath Port Talbot Council and the new ruling coalition made up of Independents and Plaid Cymru councillors, supported by Liberal Democrat and Green Party colleagues, committed to reviewing the decision.
Members of Neath Port Talbot Council’s cabinet and cabinet scrutiny committee considered a report brought forward by the Education Directorate, which contains within it several options – although officers still recommended school closures.
Public consultation on the proposals opens today (5th December) and runs to 24th January, with responses reported to the cabinet in February 2023.
Sioned Williams, Member of the Senedd for South Wales West, a resident of Alltwen and supporter of the Save our Schools campaign said:
“It is disappointing to see that the original proposal continues to be offered as an option because of the decision of the previous Labour Council, despite this being overwhelmingly rejected by the affected communities during the first consultation and at the ballot box last May. This proposal has to be rejected if other options for the three schools are to be considered by the new council so I would encourage people to put their ideas forward.
“The Council’s draft public participation strategy – brought forward by officers on the same day as the schools report – stresses the importance of local democracy and the need to listen and work with communities to face new challenges together.
“Conducting a consultation over the Christmas and New Year is not ideal, but in order remain true to the values and spirit this Council espouses, we must have a meaningful consultation with sufficient opportunities for the public to review, consider, debate, and respond to all the proposals being put forward, not just those favoured by officers. This decision will reshape the educational landscape of the Swansea Valley and have a considerable impact on parents, children, and the wider community. I will again be voicing my objection to the superschool and will be supporting exploring different options for each school community.
“The pupils of Godre’rgraig school who are currently housed in temporary buildings away from their community must be prioritised in these plans. I urge people to make their views known through the consultation. Our communities must have their voice heard and I am confident they will be listened to this time.”
Responding to concerns and questions some have raised, such as the £22 million that had been approved, the inclusion of an ASD unit and swimming pool, Sioned Williams said:
“It has been suggested by some that any move away from the original proposal that Labour brought forward would put funding at risk, and deprive the community of facilities for children with additional learning needs, and a new swimming pool. But Welsh Government have been clear that funding is available for renovating or replacing existing buildings, and a specialist unit could be incorporated into plans for a new or refurbished school, not just the superschool.
“As for the swimming pool, we all know that the current pool in Pontardawe has not received adequate investment over the years. But I understand that the Council can approach both the Welsh Government and the UK Government for different pots of funding to replace the pool.”