Plans for a new high school in the east of the city are set to be delayed for “years” after Cardiff council dramatically scrapped plans to build on a much-loved community parkland.
After a four-year battle with residents, the Liberal Democrat/Plaid Cymru-controlled council yesterday revealed it was dropping plans to build a controversial new high school on Rumney Recreation Ground.
Rumney residents who led a relentless campaign to stop the £31m scheme were overjoyed at last night’s announcement, but there were concerns over when the new school would finally open.
The decision has also thrown into jeopardy the planned £9m refurbishment of Eastern Leisure Centre, which the council said will be “reviewed”.
It emerged the council had spent £500,000 on developing the school plans and fighting the Rumney Recreation and Eastern Leisure (Rreel) action group in the courts.
Opposition councillors labelled the cost to council tax payers “disgusting” and accused the executive body of ignoring the views of east Cardiff for four years.
The controversy dates back to 2007, when the authority said it wanted to amalgamate Rumney High and Llanrumney High in a new Eastern High School on Rumney Rec.
A planning application for the school, which was due to open nextSeptember 2012 and have a capacity for 1,500 pupils, was submitted just 10 weeks ago.
Council leader Rodney Berman yesterday said officers would now go back to the drawing board to develop alternative plans.
The most likely option is to build in phases a new 11-16 school on the Rumney High site, which would replace the two existing schools.
Councillor Berman was unable to say when pupils at Llanrumney High would start to be transferred to Rumney High or how much the new project would cost.
However, the Liberal Democrat councillor did confirm that delivery of the multi-million-pound project would be delayed by a “few years” and could be a smaller school than planned.
Coun Berman also said the revised proposal would “free up” money to improve other schools – such as Willows High and Cathays High – after the Welsh Government cut funding of its 21st Century Schools Programme.
He said Education Minister Leighton Andrews’ announcement in the summer that local authorities would now have to stump up half the cost of modernisation projects, compared to the 30% first quoted, had sparked the rethink.
“It seemed this was time to look at plans for Eastern High School and whether this school should be delivered over a longer period of time in a phased approach and take on board the concerns of the community,” Coun Berman said.
He added: “We have always known the views of the community, but when we took our decision we believed it was the only way forward. Things have changed since that decision.
“We are now in a different financial climate and we have had a drop in demand for English-medium education in the east of Cardiff. That is allowing us to develop an option that the community might find more acceptable.”
Llanrumney’s Labour councillor Heather Joyce campaigned against the Rumney Rec plans and is chair of governors at Llanrumney High School.
She said: “This is excellent news. It’s a shame its taken four years to get this decision, but having said that I welcome it and applaud Rreel for their hard work.”
She added: “It’s absolutely disgusting the executive spent £500,000 fighting the people in the east of the city just to impose their plan on them and now they want us to make do with a phased building.
“The people of the east of the city have had four years of hell and now the 21st-century school they were promised is not going to happen. Where does this leave the pupils?”
Councillor Freda Salway, executive member for education, said by building in phases the authority will be able to “maximise” its budgets to deliver new schools across the city.
“We appreciate this will take a little longer to achieve but unfortunately we are now having to accept that needed improvements in a number of secondary schools in the city, including those which have not formally featured in our reorganisation plan to date, will now have to take longer to deliver,” she said.
The Labour Welsh Government hit back, saying it had no involvement in the funding of the Rumney Rec proposal and that it was “disappointed” the plans were now being reconsidered on the basis of “changes for funding that was never agreed”.
A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “The Rumney/Llanrumney proposals were made well ahead of the implementation of the 21st Century Schools Capital Investment Programme and the authority chose to invest in this area of Cardiff without financial support from the Welsh Government.
“In approving the original proposals for school re-organisation in East Cardiff the Minister was satisfied that this would provide a brand new education facility to the area, using improved buildings and facilities to offer education which is at least as good quality as that currently available, and potentially better.
“It is disappointing that these plans are now being reconsidered on the basis of changes for funding that was never agreed for this project. Our 21st Century Schools Programme was never intended to be a ‘big bang’ approach, but a long-term programme of investment.
“We have already said that we will continue to work with partners in local government and will fund new school buildings and improvements as we pledged to do.
“We remain supportive of the East Cardiff Schools Programme and maintain our £35.5m investment in this programme, which in particular will provide a brand new St Teilo’s Church in Wales School in the Llanedeyrn area of Cardiff. This investment to the programme will still be made despite reductions to our capital budgets.
“Following today’s decision on the Rumney/Llanrumney proposals it is now up to the local authority to consider what action is necessary to ensure that learners in these communities have access to an education provision of the highest possible quality.”