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Plans to remove public right of way near Cyfarthfa High School because fears for pupils’ safety

THERE are plans to get rid of a public right of way near a Merthyr Tydfil school because of fears for pupil and staff safety.

A report for the council’s rights of way committee on Wednesday, February 10 suggests the council removes the right of way that runs through the school grounds known as “Town 8” because of concerns that have been raised in relation to the health and safety of staff and pupils at Cyfarthfa High School.

A letter was sent to the council from the chair of governors raising the concerns which highlight that, to mitigate the dangers created by a right of way running the school grounds, the pathway has railings running on both sides of it.

It said that as the right of way runs through the school grounds and cuts them in two it has been necessary to place gates in the fencing to allow pupils and staff to move from one side of the pathway to the other.

During the school day, these gates are left open, as the grounds across the pathway from the main school buildings are in constant use.

It is in use, not only for lessons but also for general recreational use by the pupils. It is a particularly valuable recreational facility during the autumn and winter months due to the all-weather surface.

The letter added:

“Any person or persons with ill intent could quite easily gain access to the school grounds and buildings via this right of way.

“A determined individual could quite easily climb over the fence in the event of the gates being closed and locked.”

The letter mentioned a report from counter-terrorism security adviser Mike Brook said: “The existence of a public right of way running through the school grounds runs counter to all attempts to increase the security and safety of the school site.”

He said a particular concern is a fear that an evacuation or invacuation, of the school site, becomes necessary when a considerable number of pupils and staff are using the all-weather area and asked would it be better to close the gates or open the gates adding that taking the wrong option could have very unfortunate consequences.

He recommended that a review of the boundary of the school site be undertaken and detailed recommendations made.

The letter also mentioned a health and safety audit summary report carried out by council officers in 2019 recommended carrying out risk assessments of movement on the premises, both pedestrian and vehicular, and site security.

It is the governing body’s view, the letter said, that any such risk assessments would highlight the potential risks to the safety of the staff and students caused by the existence of a right of way running across the school site.

The officers’ report mentioned in the letter contained a section dealing with the public footpath between premises and playing fields and went on to state: “The school has highlighted concerns over a public footpath that runs between the rear of the school kitchen area and the fire assembly point and astro-turf pitch”.

The report referred to the desire of the school to have the footpath extinguished or diverted but the rights of way officer who was present for part of the visit, expressed the opinion that the statutory criteria necessary for such extinguishment or diversion did not exist however the governing body disagrees with this and along with the headmaster have been concerned with this path “for some time,”  the letter said.

Town 8 can only be accessed via a path that runs between Vernon Close and Edwards Place.

A Definitive Map Modification Order to record this route was made in 2018, however, an objection was received and the matter was referred to the planning inspectorate for determination.

The planning inspectorate did not confirm the order so this path has no legal status.

Technically, it is also possible to access Town 8 via Summerhill Place by using the path recorded as Town 40 on the definitive map and statement.

The report said that this path is obstructed and to all intents and purposes Town 8 and Town 40 form a cul-de-sac.

Councillors are being asked to approve the making of an extinguishment order made under the Highways Act 1980.

The committee report said that it is considered that an order would protect staff and pupils from violence, or the threat of violence, harassment, alarm or distress arising from unlawful activity or any other risk to their health or safety arising from such activity, that the highway should be stopped up.

If any objections or representations are made within a certain period of time and not subsequently withdrawn then the order would be referred to the planning inspectorate.

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