The Leader of Wrexham Council has been accused of making a predetermined decision about the future of the Groves – with concerns raised that the situation over the school had turned into a ‘farce’.
Members of Wrexham Council’s Executive Board this week unanimously backed recommendations to give delegated authority to the Council Leader Mark Pritchard in determining whether or not to challenge the Groves School listing through the courts, subject to Cllr Pritchard receiving legal advice.
Delegated authority in the decision making process was also approved for Deputy Leader Cllr Ian Roberts and Lead Member for Children’s Services and Education Cllr Michael Williams.
Wrexham Council had been successful in quashing the original Grade II listing for the former School for Girls on Powell Road.
However on 29 November 2016 the local authority received a formal notification stating that Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government, Mark Drakeford had re-listed the building with immediate effect.
Speaking at this week’s meeting, Cllr Pritchard noted that if Wrexham Council does choose to challenge the new listing, it would have to be prompt by the end of January, thus the request for delegated powers due to the timeframes involved.
However concerns were raised that the subject had been reduced to a ‘farce’ and that decisions were being made without all members being consulted.
Cllr Alun Jenkins said: “If I can say from my own point of view, I am at a loss to know what is going on. It is difficult to know how an Assembly Member can list, then a judicial review to decide to delist the building – then a new minister to come in and list.
“I am at a loss to understand the thinking. The Assembly must have some justifiable reasons. It smacks of the hokey cokey – it reduces the whole thing to the level of a farce even though it is so serious.”
He added: “In this report there is no mention under the financial heading of what the legal costs are likely to be. It is good this is in part one so the public can be present and hear what is going on.
“The concern I have got is by giving yourself the powers there is not the chance for information to be shared. Given that everything will be moving quickly and things happening over the Christmas break – can I ask that all members are kept fully informed?
“It is a farce at the moment – it is difficult to take pride in being part of the council at the moment.”
Assurances members will be kept informed were issued, with Cllr Pritchard reiterating the ‘desire and passion’ to put two 21st century schools on the site’.
Reference was also made to Alexandra School which has recently undergone refurbishment as part of the 21st century schools programme.
He added: “It is a little bit farcical. I am disappointed to be sitting here again with a report for us to move forward on the Groves. I have made my position clear, on what other members want and what our aspirations are.
“We will challenge through the legal process once again and when legal advice comes in, we will decide where to move forward with it.
Head of Corporate and Customer Services, Trevor Coxon added: “There is no mention of legal costs as today we are not inviting the board to make a decision on this.
“If we are to challenge the decision, and we don’t know yet, we’ve not had the expert legal advice, we would have to commence proceedings by early January.”
The meeting was also told if the council needed to take legal action to challenge the listing a report / decision would not go before the Executive Board.
Cllr Andrew Bailey questioned the use of delegated powers, noting that it prevents any further meetings or call-ins for other councillors.
Cllr Pritchard replied: “I will tell everyone again, over £1m has been spent on a derelict building and that funding is coming out of the education department.
“It is not right. I respect campaign group, but we as a council have aspirations to put new schools on it. This decision will be settled in a court of law.”
At this point Cllr Dana Davies called for a point of order and accused Cllr Pritchard of making a predetermined decision that the listing will be challenged in court of law.
She said: “Giving delegated powers to lead member who has just by own admission said it will be decided in a court. I believe strongly by his own admission it is already predetermined.
“I didn’t put those words in someone’s mouth.”
The point of order was effectively rejected with Cllr Pritchard refuting the claim, stating: “With the decision it will be made in a court of law if we end up there. Depending on the decision or the recommendations we might not pursue.”
The recommendation passed, so the powers have been delegated and a legal challenge will be decided upon in the coming weeks.