I see that planning permission was passed last week for the new Furnace Primary School in Llanelli. Cllr Sian Caiach's (and others) much publicised opposition to siting of the new building has been a constant irritant to the usual rubber stamp of self approval to council schemes senior officers are accustomed to. The objections, it seems, are not without good reason with access, traffic, and site stability issues being the most serious problems, and, without going in to enormous detail, the plans have already changed from a single storey sprawl to a three storey block with a 'roof garden' (not ideal for active five year olds I wouldn't have thought).
The planning committee declined to have a site visit, preferring instead a more rural spin into the countryside to visit the site of a single wind turbine and an agricultural dwelling (a cosy site visit to one of the latter being the usual precursor to approval), clearly the questionable siting of a new urban school to house 500 small children was not picturesque enough.
Cllr Caiach's concern was that there were far more suitable alternative sites and that the committee members, including the well paid Chair, would not have bothered to read the lengthy and technical environmental, hydrological and geological appraisals which accompanied the report. No Sian, I doubt if they did. Instead they relied on the Planning Officer's Summary which stated, for example "... there will be no land instability issues associated with the development " but taking a closer look at the Environmental Impact Assessment accompanying the report and we find there is a "change in ground levels causing potential instability to surrounding ground " and "The potential of ground instability due to the change in existing ground levels could have a major adverse affect on the surrounding area without the provision of suitable mitigation measures". It is probably possible, with modern methods, to build on virtually any type of land but it could double the cost. This doesn't seem to have been factored in.
With the fight to prevent the closure of Pantycelyn School, Llandovery, still rumbling away in the courts, a planning application for the new superschool on similarly watery unstable ground in Llandeilo has yet to be submitted. Displaced water will always find a new home somewhere and the local residents need to be certain it will not be in their living rooms.
Anyway back to Ffwrnes and Cllr Caiach put pen to paper and wrote to the Llanelli Star;
As a local councillor, I was distressed that the county planning committee decided to pass the current plans for the new Llanelli area primary school in Stradey to be built behind the homes at the upper part of Denham Avenue. They refused to see the site or visit to assess the transport problems, something which should have been the minimum amount of effort made. It is now clear that the centralised school built for 480 pupils is also expected to admit children not only from all over Llanelli but Burry Port also, with no thought to the outstanding issues in the area.
If significant planning decisions are to be made by people who have no knowledge of the area and who ignore outright the concerns of the residents, one has to ask what they are basing their descision on.
Were they fearful that actually seeing the poor access to the site and traffic problems might have caused personal distress? Were they concerned at all about building a school, which with staff and children would house over 500 individuals, on unstable land on the side of a very steep hill?
The planning officers are satisfied that despite the site being built on springs with artesian water collections right belown the surface of the ground that the "floating" foundations will support a three-storey building. I find this troubling. The money is now secure and as this site has significant problems we should build on a better one.
Why should we take any risk with primary school children? The village of Aberfan lost a generation of its children when the spoil tip behind the school moved some considerable distance and the people inside were drowned in mud. At the time the Coal Board had been satisfied that despite the presence of springs the ground was stable. They were wrong. As one of the greatest disasters this country has ever known, I feel it would be wise to learn from the experience, not risk repeating it.
I am not predicting another Aberfan but why build such a big school on unstable wet land at all? The council have been acting as if this is an all or nothing deal: we must build now or we will lose funding (false), we must use this potentially dangerous site (false; there are many alternative, unused sites as anyone who lives in our town and has seen our collection of empty, derelict sites knows).
I find these aggressive attempts to rush the project deeply troubling. Extreme rainfall conditions are now much more common and the calculations commissioned by the council are just that - estimates and no absolute guarantee that complete stability of the site will last the life of the school. It is not a risk I would be confortable taking with my own children, especially considering that the committee have gone out of their way to avoid not only setting foot on the proposed site, but even taking a glance at it from the bus!
Cllr Sian Caiach