A REPLACEMENT school building – scrapped once – has moved a step closer, but a flooding risk could remain an obstacle.
The new building for Maendy Junior and Infant School in Cwmbran has now been approved by councillors – but their decision could still be subject to a “call in” by the Welsh Government, which could override the decision due to flood risk policies.
Part of the site, at Wayfield Crescent in Northville, is within the flood risk zone and national policy states “vulnerable developments” such as schools shouldn’t be built in those areas at risk of flooding.
Planning officer Justin Jones told Torfaen Borough Council’s planning committee the existing infants school is already in the flood zone but the two-storey replacement, which will house both the infants and nursery on the ground floor and juniors on the upper level, is planned for the southern part of the site which isn’t subject to flooding.
A new, separate building for the pre-school Flying Start programme would be built on the northern part of the site, at risk of flooding, but Mr Jones said it would be smaller than the existing infants school and house fewer children.
He told the committee: “The flooding risk assessment has concluded the site will not flood. We are confident the school is secured from flooding.”
The new building will increase capacity from 231 to 420 places and provide six extra places, on top of the current 24, in the nursery and is intended to cater for an expected increase in pupils due to new housing developments, particularly in the south Sebastopol area.
A new school had been approved in January 2022 which would have also included a new access but the proposal was withdrawn on cost grounds.
Access will remain from Wayfield Crescent and the car park will have 56 standard spaces; four disabled bays, and six drop-off spaces with a three-metre-wide walking and cycle route which will link with local cycle networks. Shelters will provide cover for up to 38 bicycles.
However as the new building will be constructed while the existing school remains open, the car park won’t be available for at least six months and a traffic management plan will be required.
Llantarnam independent Alan Slade said he wasn’t convinced parents will walk their children to school or there would be enough space for staff.
He said: “It’s all very well to say active travel is the answer, but look at the transport report – it says 93 per cent of staff use their cars back and forth to school and there will be an increase in staff with it being a bigger school.
“There’s insufficient parking spaces for staff and the school currently isn’t managing the situation of people dropping their kids off evidenced by the fact the school gates are closed in the morning and afternoon period.”
Cllr Slade said a report suggested there would be an additional 100 two-way journeys to and from the school but he said the council isn’t planning to do anything different regarding neighbouring streets.
He said with more children coming from South Sebastopol he didn’t believe they would be walking.
“These people will not walk, I will tell you that for nothing,” said Cllr Slade: “It’s a four-mile round trip, two miles in the morning and two miles in the afternoon. They will not walk their kids that far and the journey home is uphill, it’s not going to happen.”
Labour councillor for the Pontnewydd ward, Stuart Ashley, said: “I hope people get the message it’s a ‘walk to school’. All schools across the country have this problem, we need to have that conversation with our residents about that.”
The school is designed to be “net zero” or carbon neutral and that includes windows to maximise light, solar panels and a split level pitched roof which will aid ventilation and reduce its need for heating.
Cllr Ashley said that would be very welcome: “It’s a very hot school at the moment if you sit in it for any time in the summer you realise how hot it is and it is cold in the winter.”
An oak tree that was likely to have been lost under the original scheme will now be retained and the only trees to be removed will be lower grade ones which will be replaced with 35 native species. The plans also include two multi use games areas in the grounds and a grass sports pitch and landscaping.
During the construction period there will be a two metre high hording to separate the current school from the building site and construction traffic will exit and enter from Cwmbran Drive.