After seven years of planning a new multi-million pound school is being scrapped because the council can't afford it

Artist's impression of new school
How the new Ysgol Heol Goffa in Llanelli could have looked -Credit:Copyright Unknown

A new multi-million pound school in Carmarthenshire which has taken years of planning won’t be built after all because the local council can’t afford to complete the project. Plans to build a new special school in Llanelli to replace Ysgol Heol Goffa were first announced seven years ago in 2017.

It was to be built at the former Draka copperworks site, close to Ysgol Pen Rhos, and have enough space for around 130 pupils aged between three and 20 years of age. It was initially expected to cost around £10m, which then rose to an estimated £17m in 2021. It is now understood that the project was set to cost more than double that. Councillors rubber-stamped the relocation of Ysgol Heol Goffa at a meeting three years ago, and an ambitious project was meant to see the creation of green outdoor spaces including a landscaped central courtyard, learning garden and wetland planting area. You can keep up to date with the latest Carmarthenshire news by signing up to the local newsletter here.

Each classroom was set to have its own outdoor area and plans also included a main hall, hydrotherapy pool, multi-use games area and a track for running, cycling, scooters and go-karting featuring winding sections and small ramps, leading councillors and education leaders to hail the proposals as “fantastic”. However, it was confirmed on Monday night that the plans had been ditched because Carmarthenshire Council can no longer afford to finance the building of the new school. Instead, a full assessment of the existing school building in Heol Goffa will be carried out by the council “in order to identify and deliver improvement works”.

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The school’s headteacher, Ceri Hopkins, and school governors were informed of the decision last week. Miss Hopkins said: “As a school we are obviously very disappointed with the decision not to proceed with plans to develop a much-needed new school building. Sadly, we are all too aware of the severe financial pressures facing everyone, the council included.

"That said, we will be working closely with the council following assurances that improvements will be carried out to improve our current school building, and we look forward to the future plans for delivering specialist provision education that is appropriate to meet the needs of the most vulnerable learners across the authority.”

Announcing the decision to shelve the plans, Glynog Davies, cabinet member for education and Welsh language at Carmarthenshire Council, said: “Given the current economic climate and the financial strains upon the local authority, the cost for building a new special school to replace Heol Goffa is not financially viable. Carmarthenshire Council firmly believes that children and young people have a fundamental right to access quality education and I would like to reassure parents that we are working hard on developing alternative proposals that will serve the needs of our learners whilst aligning more closely with the council’s strategic vision and the Welsh Government’s ALN (additional learning needs) transformation programme.” Want less ads? Download WalesOnline’s Premium app on Apple or Android.

Despite the council’s explanation about why it can’t continue with the build of the new school, the authority has been heavily criticised by those who live in and represent the area. The MP for Llanelli, Nia Griffith, has called the decision a “betrayal of the young people of Llanelli and a slap in the face for pupils, parents, staff and future generations of children”.

She added: “Ysgol Heol Goffa is a school where dedicated staff provide an amazing education for children with very complex needs. A brand new, state-of-the-art replacement should be a top priority for everyone concerned so that pupils can have the best start in life that they possibly can. To see it cynically ditched by the council at this late stage will leave people rightly feeling shocked and deeply disappointed. I am vigorously opposed to this decision. The current council leadership really needs to think again on this proposal which would see some of our county’s most vulnerable young people being left behind.”

School building
The existing Ysgol Heol Goffa in Llanelli, which has been described as 'outdated' -Credit:Copyright Unknown

Labour councillor Rob James, who represents the Heol Goffa area in Llanelli, has asked for an emergency meeting with the council’s education director and cabinet member, and will raise the issue at the next cabinet meeting. In a joint statement with fellow councillor Anthony Leyshon, he said: “We are devastated by the news that the Plaid-run Carmarthenshire Council have pulled plans to build a new special school for Ysgol Heol Goffa. After seven years of talking and a significant amount of public funds spent on planning, we are incredibly disappointed that they are not proceeding with building a new school.

“Having spoken to many families in the area over recent years, we know that ALN support, both in schools and outside, is lacking in Llanelli. The question the council must now answer is how will ALN provision be improved without this much-needed and promised investment As the local councillors for Lliedi, we will continue to work closely with the excellent staff and supportive families at Ysgol Heol Goffa to ensure the most vulnerable pupils in Carmarthenshire are not treated as second-class citizens.

"Over recent decades, we have built new mainstream education schools across Carmarthenshire; it is outrageous that those pupils that are most vulnerable are not being supported with a school that meets their requirements. We will not stop campaigning for a new school for Ysgol Heol Goffa. We will not stop campaigning for improved ALN education provision in Llanelli.”

Sean Rees, an independent councillor for the Glanymor Ward in Llanelli, expressed his disappointment at the decision and told the council "you should never promise something which you then can’t deliver". He added: "I recently had the pleasure of visiting the school and the work undertaken there by both the staff and children is amazing. These children deserve to have the best of facilities. The current site is not big enough, and facilities are outdated."

Labour councillor Deryk Cundy (leader of the opposition at Carmarthenshire Council) said it was “disingenuous to blame a lack of funding” for the collapse of the plans for the new school, adding that there had been “absolutely no consultation with parents or local councillors”.

He said: “This build was part of the agreed increase in additional learning needs provision that the administration themselves identified years ago to provide the correct setting rather than continue to get primary schools to assimilate these special children without extra funding. This was a priority then and it is disingenuous to blame a lack of funding not to provide a modern and up-to-date facility which is desperately needed, putting more pressure on already overstretched school budgets in other areas and perhaps more to the point denying the correct education for these children and putting more pressure on their parents and our teachers.”

A demonstration staged by politicians and members of the public opposed to the scrapping of the plans for a new school is due to be held outside County Hall in Carmarthen next Wednesday (May 22) from 9am.