BUILDING a school on part of a park is always going to be controversial and that has certainly been the case at Parc y Werin, Gorseinon.
A much-needed new school for children in Gorseinon and some new facilities for the community on the one hand, but the loss of just over a third of the park on the other.
Work is progressing on the £6.9 million school, which will replace infant and junior school sites on Brighton Road and Pontardulais Road with a single one.
The new primary school should open next September, and cater for 315 pupils with space for more.
Part of the scheme is a new children’s play area in Parc y Werin, which seems to be going down well with families, but gone is a car park, open space which accommodated two mini-pitches, and the old children’s play area.
The school was first granted planning permission in 2015 but village green applications to protect the park from development led to delays.
Earlier this summer The Parc y Werin Committee – founded in 2015 to look after the park – made a fresh application, in conjunction with other objectors, under the 2006 Commons Act.
They contend that Parc y Werin could have been registered under an earlier Commons Act, and are applying under a regulation in the 2006 Act relating to non-registration.
To be successful they need to prove that Parc y Werin lay within the old Loughor Common.
Swansea Council is objecting, and the matter will be determined by Planning Inspectorate Wales.
A spokesman for the inspectorate said it was aware of the public interest in the matter and “will process the application expeditiously”.
But it said it was too early to give a timescale.
For some people this gives hope to a long-running campaign, for others it is another unwelcome distraction.
Jennifer Morgan and David Cole, of the Parc Y Werin Committee, fall into the first camp.
Mrs Morgan said the issue has always been the location – not the need for a new school.
She also wondered if the council ought to have halted the new-build while the current application was being processed.
Asked about the effect of years of campaigning, the 58-year-old said: “It has been exhausting at times, and extremely frustrating.
“But if something is true to your heart and you believe that mistakes are being made, then I would certainly do it again.”
Mrs Morgan said she felt the junior school site on Pontardulais Road would be a better location for a new-build school.
“It’s more central to the catchment area,” she said.
Mr Cole was a Labour councillor who served on Swansea’s planning committee when the controversial Parc y Werin application came before it in 2015.
Councillors were told there was a petition opposing the plans signed by more 3,200 people, and two petitions of support – including one signed by 113 Gorseinon primary pupils.
The application was recommended for approval, and it narrowly passed. The meeting holds unpleasant memories for Mr Cole, of Penyrheol.
“I changed to Independent shortly after that, and didn’t stand at the next election,” he said.
“The park has been part of our lives,” he said. “Leighton James, Leigh Halfpenny and (boxer) Colin Jones all kicked a ball there.
“There is also a problem because the hospital is very busy, especially from 8am to 9am and 3pm to 4pm.”
Some new parking spaces have been added along Brynawel Road, which separates the park and the hospital.
Mr Cole said he was also worried that work on the new school could damage an adjacent row of poplar trees.
The first village green application was examined in 2017 by a planning inspector and barrister, Alun Alesbury, who recommended refusal of village green status.
He said the applicants had failed to prove people had used the park “as of right”.
Mr Alesbury said people had instead used the land “by right”, which means with permission from the landowning council.
But he was scathing of the way the council had sought to appropriate the Parc y Werin site for education, saying “it would be difficult to conceive a more inadequate or unsatisfactory handling of the procedural requirements”.
The committee confirmed the village green refusal, and council leader Rob Stewart said he hoped work on the new school would start by the end of that year.
But there was a further village green application, which was rejected in November last year. Planning inspector Vicki Hurst said she was not persuaded that the land was common land and allotted by or under any Act for the recreation of residents.
Another planning application relating to previously approved conditions was given consent this year, with amended costs also agreed by the Welsh Government.
The Labour administration has also been challenged by objectors about the new school’s compliance, or otherwise, with a corporate biodiversity objective which was adopted late last year.
During the meeting in question, Labour councillor Peter Jones – a champion of the biodiversity objective – said he was satisfied that Parc y Werin had “negligible” biodiversity, particular the school site.
In response to questions from the Local Democracy Reporter Service, the council said it originally had to decide whether to build the new school on the current Pontardulais Road site or a new one.
A spokesman said: “If we had built on one of the existing sites we would have had to provide alternative accommodation throughout the demolition and new build period due to disruption – meaning pupils would be off-site in temporary accommodation for a considerable period of time.”
He said there were also road and access concerns about Pontardulais Road.
The authority, he said, reviewed all the land it owned in the area before opting for Parc y Werin.
Once the new school is completed, the current school sites could be put up for sale unless they are required for education purposes.
The new primary school will have 38 parking spaces, which will be available for community use outside school hours, and at least 32 bike spaces.
The community will have access to the school’s new all-weather pitch and multi-use games area at certain times, and will keep using the park’s existing sports pitch, bowling greens, pavilion and fitness equipment.
The spokesman said damage to trees during construction was not expected, but that if it happened and the tree could not recover, it would be replaced.
Speaking this week, Gorseinon primary head teacher Jason Dodd said parents, pupils and staff were “very excited” about the new build.
Penyrheol councillor Jan Curtice used to work as a cook at the primary school.
She said Gorseinon was “desperate” for a new school, and that Parc y Werin was really the only place it could go.
But she said she understood the concerns of objectors like Mrs Morgan.
“If the whole park was going, then I would be the first to be concerned about it,” said Cllr Curtice.
Gorseinon Town Council clerk John Millard said it was mindful of the objections raised, but took the overall view that the benefit of a new school to replace the outdated existing facilities was to be supported.
People playing with their kids and walking their dogs at Parc y Werin had mixed views.
Mike and Katherine Pritchard, both 73, wondered what would be left of the park, and were worried about parking provision.
But they were comfortable with the project as long as the football pitch and bowls area were not affected.
Claire Walsh, 40, said she was upset when she first saw the new construction site, but loved the new children’s play area.
Grandmother Sue Cannon, 54, said: “There is still plenty of space for kids to play.”
But Peter and Ruth Jones said traffic, with the hospital so close, was going to be “chaos”.
Mr Jones, 67, said: “We really questioned why they put the new school here.
“It should be down at Melin Mynach – the bottom end of Gorseinon.”