Councillors have agreed to move ahead with plans to build a super school for 750 pupils in Pontardawe.

Members of Neath Port Talbot Council  agreed to progress with plans to close three primary schools and build a new English-medium school and swimming pool at Parc Ynysderw, Pontardawe.

Plaid Cymru councillor Anthony Richards said the project “should be reconsidered”. He added: “We need to restore community confidence… We need a proposal that is grown from the community and not a proposal that is being imposed on us.”

If the project goes ahead Alltwen, Godre’rgraig, and Llangiwg Primary schools would be merged together to form the new school for three to 11-year-olds which would open in 2024.

Councillors voted in favour of publishing a proposal to build the new school during a meeting held on Wednesday June, 16. Out of 27 members who attended the meeting 15 voted for the proposal, 11 voted against, and one abstained.

The proposal must be published with a 28-day window to receive objections in writing. The council’s cabinet will then meet again to consider the objections before deciding whether the new school should be built.

Plans for the new school include a learning support centre for primary-age pupils with autistic spectrum disorder and a 25-metre, six-lane swimming pool.

The school would cost around £22m, hosting 630 full-time pupils and 140 part-time nursery pupils. The development would be jointly funded by the Welsh Government and borrowing.

The three existing schools have a total backlog in maintenance costs of over £2m and there is a backlog of £1.2m in costs for Pontardawe Swimming Pool.

A report by council officers shows 200 people responded a consultation on the project and over 400 people signed a petition against it.

Plaid Cymru councillor Linet Purcell said she was concerned about how nursery-age children who currently walk to Llangiwg School would access the new school. She also said parents are worried their children would miss out on breakfast club and extra-curricular activities if the new school goes ahead.

She said “some of the most needy children” in the locality would be “starting off at a further disadvantage by not being able to access their essential early nursery education” if the new school is approved.

Andrew Thomas, the council’s director of education, said parents have shown similar concerns about access to nursery provision in the past when the council has reorganised schools but “every child” at reception age in those areas does attend nursery.

He added the council has a legal responsibility to provide a breakfast club but the time when it takes place is for the school governors and school community to decide.

Cllr Purcell, who represents Pontardawe, also said the proposal is “threatening vibrant communities” and that the traffic impact of the new school is one of the greatest concerns among locals. 

“Community spirit is far greater than anything generated within bricks and mortar, albeit schools are an important component of that,” said Mr Thomas.

“We have had conversations with our planning and highways people… they have not led us to believe that the contractor couldn’t come up with a scheme which would meet our planning requirements.”

Plaid Cymru councillor Rebeca Phillips said Swansea Valley residents “have lost faith” in the council.

She said there are existing issues with traffic around Cwmtawe school during drop-off and pick-up times and  opening the new school could limit the number of pupils able to walk and cycle to school because they live too far away.

Cllr Phillips, who represents Trebanos, also said the new school would affect the number of local children attending Welsh-medium schools.

Mr Thomas said the council would build as many active travel routes “as possible” when designing the new school and pupil numbers at Welsh-medium schools have not been negatively impacted by past reorganisations.

“We’ve invested heavily in Welsh-medium education in the Swansea Valley,” he added.

“Categorically, there’s no plans to close any further schools in the Swansea Valley as a part of this proposal… If things happen that are unpredictable, we’ll have to respond to whatever those circumstances are at the time. We really don’t believe that this will have a detrimental impact on Welsh-medium education.”

Plaid Cymru councillor Roslayn Davies said it is “totally unacceptable” that pupils at Godre’rgraig Primary School have been taught in temporary accommodation since 2019 and would continue to do so until 2024 if the new school is approved.

“I wouldn’t disagree with that,” said Mr Thomas. “If this school reorganisation proposal fails then the pupils still can’t go back to the original Godre’rgraig school buildings… because there is a risk to them. If it isn’t posible to mitigate that risk and this proposal fails then we’ll have to consider other options for those pupils.”

Cllr Davies, who represents Grodre’rgraig said a separate school should be built there. “Godre’rgraig should be treated as a special case as what happened over the years since the landslide in 1959 – no investment has gone into the ward really.”

Mr Thomas said a site known as the Gnoll has been considered, which would be “an expensive site to develop”.

“It’s not impossible… but if we went down that road… we couldn’t just assume that Welsh Government would agree to a new school for Llangiwg and Alltwen and a new pool.”

He said it would cost an extra £2.3m capital funding to build three separate schools and they would cost an extra £5000,000 per year to run, which would be paid back over around 40 years.

Labour councillor Suzanne Paddison, who represents Sandfields West, said: “I’m lucky to be surrounded by 21st-century schools in my ward. The new schools are providing excellent community facilities that are used all year round.

“The number of complaints that I’ve had from residents since the schools were built, I can probably count them on one hand.”