After months of debate and uncertainty, the Welsh Government have today confirmed the former Groves School WILL be listed.
The announcement was made today by Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, Ken Skates who confirmed that Cadw,Welsh Government’s historic environment service, had decided to list the former school.
Speaking today, Mr Skates: “On the balance of the evidence presented to me, considering the merits of listing the building against the published criteria and in light of all the representations and all of the advice that has been submitted, I have agreed to the listing for the building’s special architectural interest as a building of definite quality and character as a key example of an interwar girl’s grammar school in the neo-classical tradition (in a 1930s interpretation) surviving largely intact.”
The Cabinet Secretary continued onto say: “I believe the building is a key example of its type, with a number of features exhibiting stylistic flair. These include its handsome red brick exterior, the decoration between ground floor and first floor windows with herringbone brickwork and internal quality features such as an impressive elegant double sweep staircase being flooded with natural daylight by roof lanterns.
“There is also its parquet and terrazzo flooring, the sleek timber mouldings and the main hall being well proportioned and well lit.”
Wrexham’s Lesley Griffiths AM added: “After lobbying the Cabinet Secretary, Ken Skates AM, on behalf of my constituents, I am pleased the Welsh Government has listened to the concerns of the people of Wrexham.”
“From the very beginning, Wrexham Council’s handling of this process has been extremely poor. Today’s news is a victory for the determined group of campaigners who worked tirelessly to help preserve the town’s heritage.”
Llyr Gruffudd, Plaid Cymru AM for North Wales, said: “I’m delighted the school building has been listed and will not now be bulldozed as planned. It’s important that Wrexham Council now works with the community to ensure the best possible use for the site as a new school or possibly schools.
“There is pressure on the town’s primary schools and new educational provision on the Groves site will help ease those pressures. I congratulate the Save our Heritage group who fought against all odds to stop the bulldozers and had a vision for a better use of Wrexham’s remaining buildings of significance.”
The decision to list the building has immediate effect and introduces a requirement for listed building consent to demolish the building or alter, or extend it in a way which affects it character as one of special architectural or historic interest.
The Groves debate has been rumbling on for almost nine months, with Wrexham Council’s Executive Board unanimously backing plans to demolish the school early in January 2016.
The town centre site was set to be rejuvenated by Coleg Cambria, however after some helpful bats the land was retained by Wrexham Council to possibly build one or more new schools.
It was noted that in January that mothballing the site was would cost £375,000 – with current costs listed as being around £25,000 to maintain security, with retaining just the facaded costed at over £400,000 along with additional ongoing costs.
Speaking at the time Council Leader Mark Pritchard said: “We need to move forward and I apologise if Members think it is abit brutal. We have sat on our hands too long and it has not been dealt with for political reasons because it is too difficult. I cant dodge this and I wont. With the responsibility we have, we have to make unpleasant and difficult decisions.”
Following January’s decision there have been a series of protests, the launch of a petition, several debates, a public call-in a more than a few frustrated words exchanged.
Despite the initial plans to press ahead with the demolition, March 2016 saw another twist to the Groves saga, with a letter leaked just hours before a Full Council meeting. The letter, which was addressed to Lesley Griffiths AM stated that an ‘independent peer review’ had been requested for the building.
Previous attempts to list the building had been knocked back, with this lifeline from Cadw seen as the final chance to save the school from demolition.
Following the announcement regarding the peer review, in April 2016 Cllr Pritchard announced that plans to demolish the building were to be paused while a decision was made on the listing of the building.
More recently in June 2016 it Cadw declared the school was of ‘special architectural interest‘ and that subject to consultation, a Grade II listing would be put on the building. However during June’s Executive Board, Lead Member of Education, Cllr Michael Williams stated that he cannot give ‘any assurance that there will not be problems in the education department if this building is listed at all’.
Today’s announcement has been welcomed by members of the Save Our Heritage group who spearheaded the campaign to save the Groves School.
Elaine Guntripp-Thomas, from Save Our Heritage said “Whilst we have worked tirelessly to save the building and wish to celebrate this important milestone, we know that there is still a long road ahead. We hope that Wrexham Councils Executive Board will reconsider its position in terms of the future use of the school building.
She added: “Rather than dismiss the building as unsuitable for the 21st Century School Programme, we urge them to look at the many examples of retrofitted, modernised heritage schools across the UK, and embrace the unique design opportunities presented. We also encourage them to listen to the hearts and minds of local residents, rather than dismiss the collective will of the people.”
The group has also stated that they would be happy to provide any information that the Council needs to assist with the restoration and redevelopment of the building. Their research over the past 6 months has uncovered many interesting facts about the school, and their knowledge of how buildings of this type can be brought back to life could be beneficial to the Council in the future.
Commenting on the listing, Lynne Williams from the campaign group said “The former Grove Park School is one that the people of Wrexham can be proud of, not only because of its architectural merits, but for being one of the first to offer grammar school education to girls in Wales. As a group, we have remained steadfast in our efforts to save the building for future generations.
“We have spent countless hours researching the schools place within the fabric of Wrexham. Some of our members attended Grove Park, others have never stepped foot in the building. What has kept us going is our desire to stop the erosion of Wrexhams architectural character, which in turn impacts heavily on the appeal of the town centre. People simply don’t want to visit or live in a bland, boring town.”
A sixteen word response has also been issued by the Leader of Wrexham Council, Cllr Mark Pritchard, who said: “We have received confirmation of the listing and we will consider its implications in due course.”
Prior to this afternoon’s Wrexham.com drove past the Groves School and it appears someone has turned the campaigner’s banner around from saying ‘Save The Groves’ to ‘Everything Must Go!’