Campaigners say they will fight on against plans to ‘move’ their rural primary school after the Vale council moved to press ahead with it.
The cabinet of the Vale Council approved plans to move Llancarfan Primary to a new £4million, 210-place building in nearby Rhoose – where hundreds of new homes are expected over the coming years.
The cabinet has approved the publication of a statutory notice on the proposals – which will give people 28 days to object to the school move before a final decision is made.
Funding for the new building would have to be approved by Welsh Government.
But campaigners say they will continue the fight against the plans – which they say amounts to a ‘closure’ of their school and would ruin the ethos of the rural primary. They say they could launch a judicial review.
It comes after more than 1,000 people opposed the plans across two consultations – and views against the school move were expressed in a council scrutiny committee.
Campaigner Steve Parry described the consultations – and the council’s response to them – as a “sham exercise”.
Speaking after the meeting, he said: “We will take issue with the Welsh Government if they give them funding for the new school – they would be closing a designated rural school.
“This is not finished. We will challenge this.”
The meeting heard that the current Llancarfan School, which would move in September 2021 under the plans, faces a budget cut of almost £100,000 in the next financial year based on projected pupil numbers.
Paula Ham, director of learning and skills at the council, said that redundancies are “almost inevitable” at Llancarfan School – but said should the proposals go ahead there would be “additional financial protection” for the school in the transitional period.
Cllr Gordon Kemp, the only cabinet member to vote against the plan, said the consultation report “might win a prize for creative fiction” for emphasising the positive feedback from people over the negative.
He said: “Most people in Llancarfan consider this to be a closure rather than a ‘transfer.’ It has been the intention of the education department to close this school for a number of years.
“We’re starting to play with words here. We have to accept that this is going to be a closure of the school – a school that has been there since the 1870s will no longer be there.
“We have to take into account what people’s views are.”
The council has previously said the current Llancarfan Primary building is not fit for purpose, that the majority of pupils there come from outside the village, and moving the school to a new 210-place building in Rhoose was needed to cater for the growing number of pupils in the area.
A new 48-place part time nursery would also be provided at the new site.
Trevor Baker, the Vale Council’s head of strategy, community learning and resources, told the meeting he was confident the two consultations had been meaningful and had engaged with the community.
He said: “One of the reasons there was a second consultation was to produce additional information that was not in the first document. There were additional options which were brought forward in the consultation process.
“The consultation is a process of helping people understand the problems of the larger system and seeking their views. There were lots of opportunities for meaningful discussion.
“From an educational point of view this is looking to provide £4million capital investment, reducing the number of challenges for staff at the school and supporting them to be able to deliver the curriculum.”
Mr Baker denied that the education of current pupils is being sacrificed to access funding.
He added: “The proposal and the alternatives considered a number of different challenges across the western Vale.”
The meeting also heard that Llancarfan Primary – which is about to be the Vale’s only designated rural school in a soon-to-be-adopted Welsh Government code – would not be the only school in the area able to access funding for small and rural schools.
Using the money to expand Rhws Primary School was not considered an option due to building constraints there, the council said.
The decision did not please the South Wales Central AM, Andrew RT Davies.
He said: “ “Llancarfan Primary School is a well performing school – and forms a key part of the local community.
“I was therefore proud to work alongside residents, parents and pupils in voicing my objections to the proposals – and campaign against the closure.
“Local people will be rightly angered by the decision – which is deeply disappointing for both the village of Llancarfan and the wider area.”
Vale AM Jane Hutt said: ""I have consistently opposed the closure of Llancarfan School backed by extensive evidence and widespread public opposition. The Vale Council does not appear to have taken on board both authoritative evidence and the results of public consultation in making this adverse decision.
"Llancarfan is a wonderful school with a long history of excellence and I am very disappointed with this decision."
Vale MP Alun Cairns said: “I deeply regret the decision that the Vale Cabinet reached regarding the closure of Llancarfan School. I have stood with the community in strongly opposing the school closure for a long time.
“There is a deeper problem with the funding the Vale receives for education from the Welsh Government. At present, the Welsh Government funding formula for education in Wales is based on data that is 20 years old. This leaves the Vale as one of the worst-off local authorities in Wales.
“It stretches the budget and forces the Council into difficult decisions. That said, the decision on Llancarfan was the wrong one. The school is at the heart of the community and the cabinet should have found a way around this.”
Local democracy reporter