Council leader blasted for ‘personal attacks’ over Wrexham school demolition

Reporter:

Staff reporter (Leader Live)

The future of the old Groves school remains in limbo.

Wrexham Council is seeking legal advice on its options and council leader Cllr Mark Pritchard is adamant the current building needs to be knocked down to make way for new schools on the site.

Plans for the future use of the site had been expected to be on the table at the authority’s executive board meeting later this month but it is not yet clear how the council will move forward in view of the latest twist in the saga.

The Welsh Government, which has twice decided to grant grade-II listed status to the former school building in Powell Road, stands firmly in its way.

And now Wrexham Council leader Cllr Mark Pritchard has been blasted for making “personal attacks” by town assembly member Lesley Griffiths.

Ms Griffiths hit out at Cllr Pritchard in response to a statement issued over the future of the old Groves School in Powell Road, which has proved to be a controversial topic.

She said: “This is by no means the first time the leader of Wrexham Council has made unprofessional personal attacks in the press and his desperate tactics reiterate the shambolic nature of this whole affair.

“The leader’s latest rambling statement explains very little. Nothing is moving forward and the prominent site at the former Groves School remains empty.”

Ms Griffiths, who backed the Save Our Heritage group in their bid to prevent the building being demolished, hit back after Cllr Pritchard laid the blame for the loss of tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money through “mishandled sale of land by the Welsh Government” squarely at her feet through.

She added: “Cllr Pritchard continues to spread lies and bring his office into disrepute, rather than tackling the key issues and achieving the best possible outcomes for the town.

“From the beginning of this saga, there has been a lack of transparency with the council’s plans shrouded in mystery.

“The Tory/Independent Council have now had the best part of 12 months to consult and engage with the public and local representatives but instead have decided to pursue costly legal challenges and focus on petty political attacks.”

Cllr Pritchard disputes claims the Groves issue has been shrouded in secrecy and says the council has been open and transparent in every step of the process.

Last week, the decision to grant grade-II listed status to the building was overturned, following a judicial review, with Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastucture Ken Skates told to revisit his decision.

But Finance and Local Government minister Mark Drakeford has backed Mr Skates and decided to grant listed status on the building once again – with immediate effect.

Wrexham Council successfully challenged the previous decision, resulting in it being quashed by Judicial Review.

It was accepted that there was a lack of detail in the original listing decision.

But the building has once again been grade-II listed, meaning it is safe from demolition for the time being. The site is the subject of a covenant earmarking it for educational use.

The original decision to demolish the Groves building was taken in January at an executive board meeting after the council withdrew from negotiations to sell the building to Coleg Cambria.

A motion to ‘call in’ the executive board decision to demolish the school was narrowly defeated by the council’s customer and performance scrutiny committee.

Other options discussed included demolishing part of the building but retaining the facade at £418,000, as well as an extra £155,000 per year to protect it while waiting for any development to go ahead; and retaining and mothballing the site for £375,000.

Once demolished, the council plans to build two or more new schools on the site to meet increasing demand.

Members of Wrexham’s administration have confirmed the former Groves site is to be redeveloped for education purposes only, as per the covenants that exist on the land.

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