Le­gal bat­tle over clo­sure of school

South Wales Evening Post - - NEWS - AB­BIE WIGHTWICK ab­[email protected]­di­awales.co.uk

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.

Pic­ture: Google

Cymer Afan Com­pre­hen­sive School.

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