Legal battle over closure of school
A COUNCIL faces court action over its decision to close a school in what promises to be the first time the Welsh Government’s Well-being of Future Generations Act is tested.
Solicitors acting for parents fighting to save Cymer Afan Comprehensive in the Upper Afan Valley have served Neath Port Talbot Council with notice they have applied for a judicial review.
The council must respond before Christmas and a judge will decide whether a judicial review can go ahead in the next few weeks.
Public law expert and solicitor Michael Imperato, acting for parents, said win or lose the case would be significant for public bodies, parents and other service users across Wales as it will test the 2015 Act for the first time.
The council is proposing Cymer Afan pupils move to the £30 million new-build Ysgol Cwm Brombil in Margam – which opened this September – from September 2019.
But Mr Imperato argues Neath Port Talbot Council did not take a long-term view, as required by the Act, when it decided to close Cymer Afan Comprehensive and move pupils to Brombil an hour’s drive away for some at the bottom of the valley.
The Act means that, for the first time, public bodies listed in it must do what they do in a sustainable way and make them think more about the long term, work better with people, communities and each other.
Opponents say closing Cymer Afan will “rip the heart from the valley” but the council says it has falling numbers and is in need of millions of pounds of repairs.
Mr Imperato, partner and head of public administration law at Watkins and Gunn solicitors in Cardiff said closing its secondary school will lead to depopulation in the valley.
“The Future Generations Act relates to everything in the public sector and how public bodies should be approaching decisions with the Act in mind. On one level we are saying when the council made that decision they did not make that decision through the lens of the Act. They mention it in passing but can’t demonstrate they had it in the forefront of their minds
“The Act talks about how it impacts on generations 10 to 25 years away. We are saying there is no evidence the council looked at that,
“For the sake of filling a school at the bottom of the valley, that’s a short-term decision and how will that affect the community in 10 or 20 years down the line?
“There is no evidence what the council’s longterm view is. They say they have a corporate plan, but that is for 2019 to 2022.”
He said whatever the outcome of an review, if a judge agrees one should be held, it will be significant because it tests the new Act which will be useful to public bodies and the public affected by their decisions.
Peter Rees, Neath Port Talbot Council’s cabinet member for education, skills and culture said: “The local authority is currently responding to an application that has been made seeking permission to apply for a judicial review.
“Should this be granted we will rigorously defend the authority’s actions in this matter.
“We believe that the decision to close Cymer Afan Comprehensive School was correct and we are now committed to supporting secondary aged pupils from the upper Afan Valley to access their learning from September 2019 at the newly opened facilities at Ysgol Cwm Brombil.”
Neath Port Talbot Council leader Rob Jones said: “The decision to close Cymer Afan is not money related. It is looking to provide a 21st Century building as a way of dealing with falling numbers of pupils. At Cymer Afan we have a school built for 650 with 229 pupils.
“It’s not unprecedented for a school in the valleys to close. We can’t be held responsible for the decline in the population.
“Austerity and lack of investment has targeted the valleys.
“I have to think of the long-term education of pupils and I don’t think they can get the length and breadth of the curriculum where they are. It’s not where they receive education but the education they receive.”
Cymer Afan chair of governors Mairwen Goodridge has written to parents saying: “As chair of governors, alongside the governing body, I will continue to fight for education in the Upper Afan Valley and work with the local authority to ensure the best for our pupils and staff.”
She said despite disruption results at the school were good.
Cymer Afan Comprehensive School.