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School closure: More information needed

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Save our school: Protestors outside County Hall on Wednesday

Save our school: Protestors outside County Hall on Wednesday

PROTESTORS gathered outside County Hall on Wednesday (Mar 9), as the future of Ysgol Bancffosfelen was discussed by the Education and Children Scrutiny Committee.

Carmarthenshire County Council announced that it was looking to launch a statutory consultation into closing the school in 2017, and transferring the remaining pupils to Ysgol Pontyberem.

However, the committee unanimously voted in favour of a motion saying that they would be unable to offer any recommendations without visiting schools in the area, receiving more information from the authority, and studying plans from the governors to take over the running of the school through a Community Charitable Trust.

A report read at the meeting said that the Authority had ‘a legal responsibility’ to review both the type and number of schools under its control, and ‘whether or not it is making the best use of resources and facilities to deliver the opportunities that children deserve.’

The report claimed that Ysgol Bancffosfelyn had seen a ‘steady decline in pupil numbers’ over recent years – from 48 in January 2011 to 35 in January 2016 – which led to 64% of the school’s capacity being unused.

For context, the report pointed out that the Welsh Government defines a surplus of greater than 25% as ‘significant,’ and advises reviewing schools with more than 10% surplus capacity.

It was also suggested that the lack of a permanent Headteacher, when combined with the surplus capacity, presented ‘a school model which does not represent a sound, stable educational model or best use of resources.’

‘In addition, the Authority feels that from an educational perspective having such a small number of pupils makes it extremely difficult for the school to deliver the breadth and depth of curricular and social experiences which pupils of this age require to fully develop.’

The draft consultation document suggested that pupil travel costs would not be much of an issue because ‘many of the pupils attending Bancffosfelen reside within the catchment of Pontyberem.’

Both schools gained similar ratings in the National Schools Categorisation system.

The cost per pupil to the council is £4,547 at Bancffosfelen – 24% above the county average, while at Pontyberem, the cost per pupil is £3,583.

The author of the report, Simon Davies, said that 23 letters of objection to the school’s closure had been received by the council, in addition to a statement by Bancffosfelen governors and a petition signed by ‘a number of people.’

Councillor Gwyn Hopkins proposed that the committee should visit the school, and receive ‘far more details’ about the plan put forward by the Governors to for a Community Charitable Trust.

“We need more details, but it seems at the moment to be at least a possibility,” Cllr Hopkins added.

Cllr Hopkins also suggested visiting Ysgol Pontyberem.

Committee Chair Councillor Eirwyn Williams agreed that the Governors’ plan ‘at face value seems exciting and plausible.’

Councillor Mansel Charles – who admitted earlier in the meeting that he was a supporter of smaller schools – agreed. Cllr Charles also said that while it was good to see that a number of letters of support had been written, it was ‘disappointing’ that they had been received so late, meaning that committee members had been unable to read them in any detail. Cllr Charles also suggested visiting other nearby schools including Ysgol y Fro, and assessing where Bancffosfelen pupils lived in relation to the catchment areas.

Councillor Cefin Campbell said that it was encouraging to see that the Governors and friends of the school had ‘set about things in a different way,’ in looking to form a Community Charitable Trust.

“As a council, when schools go below certain numbers, we deal with it in the same way. This way breaks new ground,” he added, before emphasising that the business plan put forward would be viable in terms of building improvements, educational strategy, and pupil safety.

However, Councillor Hugh Richards suggested that as a large percentage of the pupils lived in the Pontyberem catchment area, the figures put forward relating to school use were ‘undermined’.

The committee’s decision was welcomed by Cymdeithas.

Ffred Ffransis said: “We hope the Council will instruct officers now not to just sit on their hands but to actively work with communities to establish how best to develop schools. Communities change and sometimes schools choose to close or have to close but this should be the last resort not the default position. Let this be the start of a new spirit of co-operation in the revival for Welsh speaking communities.

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Laugharne Luxury Lodge plan hits pothole

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THE OWNERS of a luxury lodge development in Laugharne face potential enforcement action from Carmarthenshire County Council. The company is alleged to have built a substantial roadway across fields near the development without planning permission.
Milkwood Spa, due to launch this autumn, is located on a site with a chequered planning history. It is located in a prominent position overlooking Carmarthen Bay and the village of Laugharne.
The current developers, UK Luxury Lodges, acquired the site from its previous owners after their attempts to get development going on the site stalled.
UK Luxury Lodges says the development will be the first resort of its kind in the region; welcoming guests after an investment upwards of £30 million.
Laugharne and nearby Pendine are popular tourist destinations, but with a track record of insecure, poorly paid employment. Speaking to us earlier this year Sharon Hurley, a director of the company behind the project, told us that she hoped the lodge and spa development would help create up to 110 new jobs in the area.
Past developments and proposals for developments have run into problems concerning their environmental impact and their effect on the local landscape.
A previous owner obstructed and extinguished a public footpath. The footpath was not relocated. No enforcement action took place over its loss.
Concerns also exist about the disturbance to a nearby scheduled monument and the area around the lodges and spa. Ironically for a project using the ‘Milkwood’ brand, developers have received local criticism for removing a significant number of mature trees to facilitate the development and damaging the landscape which is one of the locality’s chief selling points.
Issues of traffic, local parking solutions, heavy plant using residential roads, and blocked footpaths also exercise some residents.
Before we published our original article in August, we carried out an extensive search of the site’s planning history.
The County Council’s planning portal recorded no objections to the location’s development either when initial outline planning was granted for developing the location by its previous owner, or when it was acquired by the current owners in 2013 when reserved matters were dealt with under application number W/30157.
Concerning the wider conservation questions, one letter, about the linked application number W/33378, is blank on the Planning Portal.
We are assured, however, objections were raised.
A conservation area application had been submitted and approved and that the statutory consultees Cadw, Dyfed Archaeological Trust raised no objections to the development in so far as it affected the scheduled monument on the site.
When we questioned Ms Hurley about those prior concerns about development, she told us: “Creating a property that honours and celebrates the existing natural environment is so important to me and the team is working closely with local planning authorities to ensure the conservation of the surrounding historic environment.”
However, earlier this week, The Herald received a series of photos which show a permanent roadway being dug out across green fields. Machinery still being used on the works is plainly visible in some of the photos, as is the extent of the hardcore base and gravel laid over the top in some sections.
No planning permission exists for such development. Whether Carmarthenshire County Council, Cadw or the Dyfed Archaeological Trust would have been quite so supportive had they been aware of plans to dig a roadway across a green-field site in a prominent and sensitive landscape is open to question.
We asked Carmarthenshire County Council to comment on the roadway’s construction.
Head of Planning Llinos Quelch said: “We have been alerted to potentially unauthorised works on this site and we are dealing with it as an enforcement matter. Investigations will continue and appropriate action taken.”

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Zoe Evans, Llanelli painter and decorator, is British Apprentice of the Year

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Zoe Evans, a 21 year old painter and decorator from Llanelli, has been named the GB Apprentice of the Year and Welsh Apprentice of the Year at the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB)
Apprenticeship Awards.


The CITB Apprenticeship Awards celebrate the achievements of apprentices and employers across the UK for their commitment and dedication to construction.


The winners were presented with their awards at a ceremony hosted by broadcaster and property entrepreneur, Sarah Beeny. The ceremony took place at Merchant Taylors’ Hall in London (7 November).


Zoe completed a level 2 apprenticeship in painting and decorating, to go onto achieve her Advanced level 3. With her artistic flair, Zoe enjoys the creative aspects of her trade and plans to take a career route in interior design. Zoe’s amazing commitment to being the best she can, has attributed to her becoming an ambassador for women in construction and being the face of the posters across her college, Coleg Sir Gar.


Zoe said: “I’ve loved every single part of my apprentice journey, from the classroom learning to the practical application and the more creative aspects of the job. I want to thank my mentor, Ken MacKay and my employer Ian Williams Ltd. It’s a really good feeling to know that I’ve been
recognised in this way. I’d definitely recommend an apprenticeship to anyone willing to work hard, have goals and go full out to achieve them.”

Jon Davies, CITB Apprenticeship Officer, said: “When Zoe started her apprenticeship we saw her potential so we fast tracked her from level 1 to level 2. It was important for me to make sure she had the right support to reach the heights she is capable of, and she is doing just that. Zoe makes work a brighter place for everyone around her. Her positive attitude and ability makes her a perfect ambassador for women in construction, and I am really pleased this has been recognised with her award.”

Kevin Mcloughlin, CITB board member and founder and Managing Director of Mcloughlin Decorating, said: “Congratulations to Zoe, a clearly dedicated apprentice – it’s great to recognise her hard work. Apprenticeships provide a fast track route into the construction industry. With so many rewarding careers opportunities in construction there is something out there for everyone. I wish Zoe all the best in her career in construction.”

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Police difuse hostage situation in Cae Glas

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AT APPROXIMATELY 10.10pm on Wednesday (Nov 6) police were requested to attend at a property in Cae Glas, Felinfoel, in respect of threats being made by a man within the property to harm himself and a woman inside with a knife.

Officers were deployed immediately, and to ensure the safety of everyone at the scene firearms officers were also deployed.

Chief Inspector Stuart Bell said: “A specialist negotiator worked with the man for a number of hours, bringing the incident to a close at about 1.45am this morning, when the man surrendered himself and was arrested for an outstanding warrant.

“A woman at the scene was also arrested for obstructing police officers. No injuries have been reported.

“There is no threat or danger to anyone outside of the property in the area, and we can reassure residents that there is no need to be concerned as this was an isolated incident.”

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