Posted: Wed 9th Mar 2016

Replacement ‘Faith’ School Could Be Built On Groves Site After Demolition for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Mar 9th, 2016

The former Groves site could become the new home of a faith school, with an existing town centre primary school described as having ‘little space for expansion’.

After a question was asked at the Executive Board meeting yesterday it looks likely a replacement for St Mary’s Primary School is due to be built on the Groves site

Although no public questions were asked, a ‘members question’ was posed by Cllr Malcolm King, who requested that Wrexham Council considered commissioning an external architect to carry out a report on the Groves building to discover if it was suitable for conversion to a primary school.

Further, he asked if a third party representing a faith based school had been consulted over the Groves site, and if so had they been given an option to pursue a converted Groves building.

Cllr King noted such questions were ‘not a stalling tactic’ to prevent the imminent demolition, and asked if such work requested had been carried out why it had not been shared already.

However Cllr King was upbraided by Cllr Michael Williams, Lead Member of Education for Wrexham Council while answering, saying he was ‘puzzled’ and found the question ‘odd’ as it appeared it was formed from discussions and asked as a proxy from the ‘Save Our Heritage‘ group rather off his own bat. The SOH.Wales website does say they were asking the question, and has a full copy of the query raised.

Cllr Williams answered the queries but prioritised pointing out Cllr King’s non-attendance at a range of relevant meetings over the last 18 months, with two specific meetings regarding the future of the Groves highlighted, branding Cllr King a ‘recent convert’ to the preservation of the Groves idea.

Cllr Williams noted recent comments by Coleg Cambria, where it was stated refurbishment of the Groves site was not an option however a facade retention was planned. This facade retention decision was speculated by Cllr Williams as recommended ‘presumably by architects’, however it is claimed this was requested by Wrexham Council themselves.

Discussions were confirmed with the Catholic Diocese, specifically with the Bishop and other members of the Trustees Group, on the topic of land provision on the Groves site to replace St Mary’s School.

St Mary’s was noted as having ‘little space for extensions’ and ‘the number of children from the Catholic faith are increasing in number’.

Cllr Williams said the dioceses are required to meet 15% of a cost of a new build, and therefore ‘members of the Catholic Church have to dip their hands in their pockets’. It was stated that remodelling the existing building was not an option.

In related news on the Groves Local MP Ian Lucas has made public a letter he sent to all 52 of Wrexham’s Councillors, revealing that he had been told Wrexham Council had been “conducting negotiations concerning the construction of ‘two new primary schools on the (Groves) site’ “. The information was provided ‘in confidence’ however Mr Lucas believes it is not ‘appropriate or justified to withhold this information from elected members of the Council’.

Mr Lucas goes on to say: “I think the failure to disclose this information to you and other Councillors is quite wrong, especially as the Council has commenced a formal consultation for development of Alexandra School and Ysgol Plas Coch. For the avoidance of doubt, I have no objection to the proposed developments at Alexandra and Plas Coch. I simply wish decision makers on the Council to be fully informed.”

Mr Lucas encourages the Council to suspend the planned demolition of the Groves building ‘pending a full and open consultation on the future of the Groves site with Councillors and the people of Wrexham, considering its proposed development and whether the existing buildings can be incorporated in the design.’

This position is backed up by Lib Dem Assembly Member Aled Roberts and the Group of Lib Dem Wrexham councillors who recently ‘called in’ in the decision disagreeing with the process that was followed – the call in failed in early February.

Mr Roberts said: “Wrexham council needs to ensure that every issue regarding the Groves site has been considered rather than rushing into a decision to demolish. If the Groves is demolished then it’s gone forever and the community will feel robbed of a building which holds important memories for many in Wrexham.

“In particular we need to consider issues such as the extent of asbestos which could be a crucial factor in the viability for retaining the existing building. Also if the site is to be used for educational purposes then discussions will need to take place with the Welsh Government on the funding options of renovation or new build, and the likely timescale for any available funding.”

The call in debate focused on the procedural elements of the decision making, rather than the more emotive opinions. The call in failed as Councillors found that the process had been followed correctly, and due to this enquired if there had been any proposals to change how the Council works on such occasions – we will update as and when we get a reply.

(Pic: Demolition of the older concrete block of the Groves, perhaps a view to come for the rest of the site)

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