Last week, Cardiff Council announced that they had reconsidered their previous decision to back track on their commitment to build a new one form entry Welsh-medium school in Grangetown – something which had already been approved by the Welsh Government and for which a share of funding had been arranged under the 21st Century Schools programme. Instead, they now intend to provide an additional 60 entry places for both Welsh- and English-medium education in the Grangetown/Butetown area, and have produced a shortlist of six sites that they consider suitable for development, as reported here.
This in itself is a major victory for both the parents who have been campaigning for it and for Neil McEvoy, who was able to use his position to "call in" the original decision.
The new proposals are set out in detail in this document, which is being considered by the Children & Young People Scrutiny Committee tonight. In this post I'd like to look at the shortlisted options.
The map below shows the six sites. Two are in Grangetown: Ninian Park Primary in green and Ferry Road (behind Channel View Leisure Centre) in turquoise. Four are in Butetown: Mount Stuart Primary in lavender, St Mary the Virgin CiW Primary in blue, St Cuthbert's RC Primary in orange and unused land just north of County Hall in yellow.
If the Ninian Park Primary site were to be developed, it would be as a permanent extension to replace the existing temporary accommodation, probably in the area marked on the picture below, which will involve taking a small piece of land from Sevenoaks Park. It could therefore only provide English-medium places. It is a two form entry school at present, and the extension would make it a three form entry school.
My guess is that the Ferry Road site would be the area shown in turquoise below. It is a relatively small site, but it might well be enlarged by relocating some of the car parking at Channel View Leisure Centre and/or by taking a small piece of the Marl in the same way developing Ninian Park would take a small part of Sevenoaks Park. I do not know the exact site boundaries Cardiff have in mind, but it is worth noting that they believe the site is large enough and suitable for a two form entry school in their report, with the play/sports facilities on the Marl being used by the school.
Personally, I would have no objection to this site being developed as a one form entry WM school, especially as the site is relatively small, but Cardiff have a preference for larger rather than smaller schools.
Therefore if there is to be a Welsh-medium School in Grangetown, this is the only one of the identified sites that could accommodate it. The only alternative to a WM school on this site would be one in Butetown.
It is perhaps worth noting that in this post, Labour Councillor Ashley Govier is quoted as saying that the plan is to create "a fully integrated site of play, leisure and school", which might be taken to include the Grangetown Play Centre to the right of it in the image. He might well have inside information not available to the rest of us, but I do not see any reason why the playgroup should not stay exactly where it is, and the new school be built to the left of it.
There are four identified sites in Butetown. Three of them involve building on the playing fields of existing schools, and one is a currently unused brownfield site.
Mount Stuart Primary is shown below. I would guess the most promising part of the site to develop is marked in lavender. The idea is to extend the existing school, making it a three form entry English-medium school. There is also the potential to enlarge the site onto the green public space to the west and the south of the site to compensate for this.
Cardiff have identified the need for an additional 60 English-medium entry places in Grangetown/Butetown, and I think the best way of achieving this would be to provide 30 of them at Ninian Park Primary and 30 of them at Mount Stuart Primary. However I might also say that although I think the figures for the overall numbers of additional children are probably right, I think that Cardiff are underestimating the numbers for WM schools and over-estimating the number for EM schools. They are working on an annual 4% "uplift".
St Mary the Virgin CiW school is shown below, and Cardiff have identified their playing field (marked in blue) as a site for development. I just can't see this working. Losing the playing field will affect the existing school very severely. For me, it's a non-starter. However I would not rule out creating some additional places at this school if there was a specific demand for more Church in Wales faith school provision. It might well be possible to build a small block of two or three classrooms immediately adjacent to the school without needing to build on the playing field.
The picture below shows two sites. The site shown in orange takes up part of the playing field of St Cuthbert's RC Primary and some adjacent land. I think it is possible to build a new wing to this school to increase it from a one form entry to a two form entry school, but I would again question whether there is specific demand for this many more Catholic faith school places, particularly as it would mean that the vital piece of maintained green space at Letton Road will be lost to the community. Providing just one or two additional classrooms could probably be done without having to take this public space.
In contrast, the site shown in yellow to the north of County Hall seems a much better proposition, and is so close both the St Cuthbert and St Mary's sites as to make no real difference in terms of travelling times. So why take much-valued playing space away from either of those two schools? To me, this seems an ideal site to develop as a two form entry school.
So it is now a question of choosing which of these options are best. So far as Welsh-medium education is concerned, there are only two practical possibilities from the six sites that Cardiff has shortlisted: either a new school at Ferry Road (turquoise) or a new school at County Hall (yellow). In my opinion, it would be better to develop the Ferry Road site, because Grangetown is more densely populated and has the greatest immediate demand for WM places.
For children in Grangetown to have to travel east to the County Hall site would be almost as inconvenient as for them to have to travel west to Pwll Coch. Schools in urban areas should be within easy walking distance. There are already four EM schools in Grangetown (Grangetown Primary, Ninian Park Primary, St Patrick's RC Primary and St Paul's CiW Primary) so it is only fair that there should now be an equally accessible Welsh-medium school in Grangetown as well.