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Councillor Apologises Over School Biodiversity Report

Parc y Werin, Gorseinon

Jen Raynor: “I have to say, I put my hands up. That was a mistake."

A senior councillor apologised during an ill-tempered meeting about a long-delayed primary school which is to be built on part of a Swansea park.

Councillor Jennifer Raynor was asked why a cabinet report last month about a rise in costs for the school at Parc y Werin, Gorseinon, had omitted a council objective to maintain and enhance Swansea’s natural resources and biodiversity.

This objective was agreed last October and contains a clause about maintaining parks for recreation and play.

The cabinet report, which was approved at the meeting on February 21, listed  the council’s other five corporate objectives.

The discrepancy prompted the council’s scrutiny committee to call in the cabinet’s decision to approve the increased school build costs.

Speaking at the scrutiny committee meeting on March 11, Councillor Jeff Jones asked Cllr Raynor about the omission, and said he hoped that council objectives would not be applied selectively.

Cllr Raynor, who holds the education brief, said: “I have to say, I put my hands up. That was a mistake.

“The (cabinet) report required none of the objectives to be listed. It was a procedural, financial report.

“Apologies, it was not there, it was a simple cut and paste job.”

Cllr Jones then asked: “Do you read all your cabinet reports before they are signed off?”

Cllr Raynor replied: “As I said, I made a mistake, I apologise.”

The new school, including pitches, green areas and a car park, will take up 37% of Parc y Werin.

Referring to the expected loss of two oak trees and some green space at Parc y Werin, Councillor Wendy Fitzgerald said she was worried because north-west Swansea was “going to be concreted over” by thousands of new homes, and that her Penllergaer ward was losing “dozens” of trees.

“I feel there is complete justification for the call-in,” she said. “I feel the whole situation with Parc y Werin should be reconsidered.”

Cllr Raynor reminded the ward member for Penllergaer that the school had planning consent, and the current school experienced sewage leaks during heavy rain and has other defects.

“This is not an opportunity for you to grandstand about issues in your ward,” she said.

Councillor Peter Jones, who spearheaded the inclusion of the biodiversity objective as a council priority, said he was satisfied that Parc y Werin had “negligible” biodiversity, particular the new school area which currently comprises two mini-pitches, a car park and playground.

“The biodiversity that is there is not at-risk species or at-risk habitats,” he said.

Councillor Paxton Hood-Williams asked Cllr Raynor if she was worried that the matter might be referred further under the provisions of the Well-being of Future Generations Act.

Cllr Raynor said the act had a number of elements in it, and added: “I think there would be an enormous public outcry if a further attempt was made to delay an improved education facility for Gorseinon.”

The new £6.9m school will cater for 315 pupils, with capacity for 420.

“By now, they (pupils) should have been in a new school,” said Cllr Raynor.

Earlier in the meeting, objector Crispian Huggill quizzed Cllr Raynor and accused the cabinet of “driving the coach and horses” through the biodiversity objective.

Mr Huggill protested when he was told he could not ask three of his five questions because time had run out.

Cllr Raynor told Mr Huggill that the school would provide “increased opportunities to have more species, more pollinators, and a greater sense of ownership and educational opportunities, not just for pupils but the local community”.

She added that public access would, based on a similar school build in Gowerton, increase people’s use of the park, which is one of the biodiversity objective’s aims.

The committee decided it was satisfied with Cllr Raynor’s explanations, but will advise cabinet that future decisions which are assessed under the Well-being of Future Generations Act should also include a biodiversity objective assessment.
 

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