Council Leader Pritchard Gives Both Barrels Back At Welsh Government Over Groves Listing
Wrexham’s Council Leader has strongly attacked various Assembly Members and Welsh Government over the decision yesterday to re-list the Groves school.
Update: The Director of Communications at the Welsh Government has been in touch to say: “You may have received a statement earlier today in relation to the listing of Groves school. The Cabinet Secretary for the Environment and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths AM has asked me to make clear it is factually incorrect to state that she ever had Ministerial oversight in relation to the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales.”
The spat has echoes of earlier this year when Cllr Pritchard and Lesley Griffiths AM had a dispute over the recollection of events of a meeting – where facts again were very strongly disputed.
Original article below…
The former all girls school received a Grade II listing due to its ‘architectural interest’ – with Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, Ken Skates confirming the listing in August 2016 himself. This decision was then challenged by Wrexham Council.
Last week’s High Court judgement document reversed the listing, however yesterday it was again listed by Welsh Government Ministers, specifically AM Mark Drakeford.
Cllr Mark Pritchard, Leader of Wrexham Council, issued a lengthy 850 word statement late this afternoon hammering AM’s Mark Drakeford and Lesley Griffiths – blaming them and Welsh Government for possible costs of a legal battle over the Groves school listing.
Cllr Pritchard said: “We at Wrexham Council are very disappointed with the decision taken by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government to list the former Groves in spite of the recent quashing of the decision to list undertaken by Ken Skates AM by a decision of the High Court, and in spite of the advice of professional experts, who noted they did not consider the building worth listing.
“Mr Drakeford’s own written decision notes that the balance of expert opinion ‘counsels against listing the building’ – he admits that he was not persuaded by the opinion of his own qualified professional experts in making this decision.
“Moreover, to our knowledge Mr Drakeford has not visited the site of the building, and his decision must therefore have been based on reading documents and viewing some photographs – while the professional advice put forward by Cadw experts would have been based on in-depth site visits to the former school properly to assess its condition and features.
“If this were a minor issue of aesthetics then the Secretary might be welcome to his difference of opinion – but this is a matter which could now cost the Council Tax-payers of Wrexham significant sums of money.
“His decision makes no reference to the cost that would be incurred by the Council in having to preserve the building in its current state.
“Having to spend such significant sums of money to preserve the building could only be to the detriment of our 21st century schools programme. It is playing fast and loose with the future education of our children.
Cllr Pritchard went on to restate the aim of the Groves site to be for two new primary schools, and that ‘Redeveloping and renovating the current building as a modern primary school would be both impractical and prohibitively expensive’.
Yesterday’s comments (published here on Wrexham.com) where AM Lesley Griffiths branded the ‘whole affair has been a complete shambles’, referring to ‘secretive discussions to pre-prepared press releases and costly legal challenges’.
This afternoon Cllr Pritchard took exception to the comments, explaining his views at length saying: “I was also very disappointed to see comments made in the press by Lesley Griffiths AM, regarding our decision to challenge the listing of the former Groves.
“To say that we have held ‘secretive meetings’ around this issue is incredibly misleading and misrepresents our position.
“The arguments behind the redevelopment of the Groves are well-rehearsed and were subject to public scrutiny at every level – including at Executive Board, call-in at scrutiny and full Council.
“The only meeting which was not held in public was a Part 2 meeting to discuss our position and take advice with respect to legally challenging the decision made by Mr Skates to list the building- but this meeting was attended by council members of all party groups.
“It is a perfectly normal procedure under the Local Government Act 1972 to consider matters in Part 2, to the exclusion of the press and public, where the Council is receiving legal advice – it is worth noting that the Welsh Government did not publicise any of the legal advice which it had been given, and we would not expect it to do so.
“Ms Griffiths has also previously described the situation as a ‘debacle’ – but I wish to counter, in the strongest terms, that whatever ‘debacle’ there was here, responsibility for it rests solely with the Welsh Government, as it was the decision of the Secretary to list the building.
“Our decision to challenge the listing was vindicated by the decision of the High Court to quash the Secretary’s original decision as a result of which the Council’s legal costs were recouped from the Welsh Government. It is all the more surprising and disappointing, therefore, that yet another Secretary has now decided to relist the building.
“As for debacles that cost taxpayers a great deal of money, the Welsh Government and Ms Griffiths are no strangers to either – as the Public Accounts Committee found out earlier this year, when it reported on the tens of millions of pounds lost out to Welsh taxpayers by the mishandled sale of land by the Welsh Government.
“Land valued at tens of millions of pounds was sold for just a few million, and Ms Griffiths, at the time, was the Minister responsible for oversight of those sales.
“Finally, I must express my disappointment and that of my fellow councillors that in spite of a decision to list the school having been quashed by the High Court, we continue to face this situation due to poor decision making by the Welsh Government.
“The Welsh Government is effectively riding roughshod over the High Court’s decision, and I’m extremely disappointed by the course of action they have decided to take.”
It is as yet formally unknown if Wrexham Council will be challenging the latest listing decision, but with todays statement it appears Wrexham Council’s political leadership is steering a course that could again end up with a Judge deciding the outcome of the Groves building.
We have approached Lesley Griffiths’ Office about Cllr Pritchard’s statement and are awaiting further comment.
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