Wrexham Council have decided not to challenge the listing of the Groves School after consulting legal opinion, meaning the building will now remain listed.
The full lengthy statement outlining the Council’s reasoning and decision is below.
Cllr Mark Pritchard, Leader of Wrexham Council, said: “Following the decision of Mark Drakeford AM, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government , to relist the former Groves School, I presented a report to the December meeting of the Executive Board of the Council requesting the delegated authority – in consultation with the Head of Corporate and Customer Services, the Executive Director for Place and Economy, and also the Deputy Leader and the Lead Member for Children’s Services and Education – to determine whether or not to challenge the listing of the Groves following the Council’s successful challenge to the first listing. I requested this delegation as the Council only had until 9 January to challenge this second decision during which time there was no Executive Board meeting scheduled and I wished to take expert professional advice before a decision was taken.
“I have now received advice from senior legal officers and counsel on the prospect of mounting a second successful challenge to the second minister’s decision. That advice has revealed that the reasoning used to justify the second listing is stronger than that of the previous minister making any successful challenge less certain, this despite the fact that neither minister followed their professional advisers’ views that the building was not worthy of listing.
“I always pay due regard to professional advice and reluctantly, therefore, I will not pursue this when the prospects of success are less certain.”
Cllr Pritchard went on to say, “I and my colleagues on the Executive Board are, of course, bitterly disappointed by this turn of events, not least because this deals a hammer blow to the Council’s plans for 21st century education provision for the children of this County Borough.
“It has always been our intention to stop the spending of public money on the upkeep of the building – by the end of this financial year, the Council will already have spent more than £1million from the budget for Education on maintaining and securing the school building – and to create two new schools on the site of the former Groves, suitable for delivering modern education to the children of Wrexham.
“We have said throughout the discussion over the future of the Groves that we are committed to the delivery of education on the site – but have also noted that this building, as it stands, is ill suited to the needs of modern, 21st century, primary school education. It is now difficult to see what beneficial use this building can be put to in its listed state and with the stringent restrictive covenants severely limiting its future use.
“Having said this, I will now be pressing for early discussions with Welsh Ministers to identify what support, including financial provision, they will be offering to the Council both to carry out a full feasibility study to assess and cost the works necessary to give this building a meaningful, beneficial use for the future and to carry out the execution of such works.
“Now that the building is listed, it will cost the council huge sums of money to preserve it, and we urge the Welsh Government to support us in that.”
UPDATE 9pm – comments from our local MP, AM and campaigners.
Lesley Griffiths AM said: “I am pleased Wrexham Council have decided not to pursue costly legal challenges at the taxpayers’ expense. The location of the former Groves School is a prominent site in the centre of Wrexham and everybody wants to see the area developed to its full potential.”
“Many constituents have contacted me on this issue and on numerous occasions over the past year, I have called for Wrexham Council to be more transparent, to clarify their plans for the site and to consult with the public. Surely now the time is right for the Local Authority to work with the relevant bodies and stakeholders to achieve the best possible outcome for the town and its people.”
Ian Lucas MP said: “I am pleased that the council has seen sense and will not continue spending taxpayers’ money in prolonging this saga.
“I have been asking the Tory/ Independent coalition who run the council to set out their proposals for some time and be clear with the Wrexham public about their intentions for the site. It is vitally important that they now tell us all what their proposals for the site are and consult the people of Wrexham about them.”
We have also had the following from ‘Save Our Heritage’ campaigners, a group that spearheaded the preservation of the school building. They also dispute the £1m stated ongoing costs of maintenance, saying it is closer to £0.25m, with criticism over the covenants related information given today.
Save Our Heritage group member Sarah Roberts said “We are pleased that the Council have finally agreed to undertake a feasability study. At a meeting of the full Council on March 8th 2016, we asked for just such a study to be carried out, but our request was met with silence. If the Council had listened to our request, they could have saved themselves a great deal of time and money.”
Group chairperson Elaine Guntrip-Thomas said “Nothing has changed for us. Our vision for the building has always been to see it used for education once again. We firmly believe that with proper refurbishment, the school can be made fit for purpose. Whether this is for one or two primary schools, or any other form of education is immaterial. What’s important is that an iconic piece of Wrexham’s built environment is retained, and brought back to life.”
The statement disputes the Council claim the Groves building is not suited for modern 21st Century primary school education, saying “Our exhaustive research has found similar buildings throughout the country that have been refurbished to meet current standards, and are delivering high quality education today.”
It adds that comments that in their view “the restrictive covenants are irrelevant, as they apply to the land, and not the building.”
Perhaps one point of common ground between the campaigners and Wrexham Council is looking to Cardiff for some cash to make the most of the town centre site, with Save Our Heritage saying, “The First Minister Carwyn Jones has already stated that Welsh Government funding under the 21st Century Schools program can be for refurbishment projects, and not just new build schools.”
We are expecting further comments on this topic and will add them in when received!