PARENTS at Ysgol Gymraeg Y Fenni fear their children are being put at risk after a decision by Llantilio Pertholey Community Council to withdraw parking privileges at the village hall adjacent to the Mardy school led to traffic chaos.

After initially approaching the council in an effort to formalise an informal parking agreement, which for the past decade has seen parents using the car park at the Llantilio Pertholey Community Hall during peak drop-off and pick-up periods, staff arrived at the school last Monday morning to find the car park gates locked.

“It was too late for me to let parents know and when everyone started to arrive to drop off their children there was chaos on the roads,” said the school’s headteacher April Wiggins

“Parents were unhappy, children were unhappy and local residents were unhappy. It was a horrible situation, not least because we all felt that the safety of the children was being put at risk,” she said.

“We had no idea that the gates were going to be locked.

“In fact when I spoke to one of the councillors I was told that no decision had been taken over the use of the car park and that it was due to be discussed soon.

“This was only last week so I was very surprised to find the car park locked after the weekend,” she said.

“The situation on Monday morning was very difficult and dangerous for our pupils with the main road in front of the school being gridlocked. 

“This has caused disruption to local residents as more parents now have to park on the roads around school – this seems ridiculous when there is a large car park nearby that is usually empty at the times when parents are dropping off or collecting their children. 

“The safety and wellbeing of children and the public in general should be a concern for the community council.  The school has offered to pay a contribution if allowed to use the car park and I hope that we can come to some agreement with Llantilio Pertholey Community Hall committee for the benefit of all who live, work and come to school in the area,” she added.

Although the chairman of the community council Councillor Geoffrey Cowan has declined to comment on the issue, it is understood that the council’s decision to lock the gates of the car park arose from a health and safety issue with an overspill area at the car park and that until this has been resolved the car park will be ‘out of bounds’ to all but those who have paid to hire the hall.

In an email to the school Councillor Cowan said that the safety of children was the responsibility of parents and the school and not the community council.

“It is not this council’s duty to supply a car park to the school, that is the county council’s. This council’s first responsibility is to the hall users, the gates will be locked and only hall users will be allowed,” said Councillor Cowan, who warned that anyone using the hall car park without authorisation risked being locked in.

Chair of governors at Ysgol Gymraeg, Sarah-Louise Spinks said staff and governors were aware of the problems with parking at the school, which were more challenging for the Welsh medium primary school as by its nature many pupils had to be brought to school by bus, taxi or car.

“We also have the only Welsh language nursery in the area and as pupils there are not entitled to free school transport the majority of them have to be brought by car.

“We were looking at the issue in the long term, and indeed Monmouthshire County Council had allowed for car parking improvements in our school budget, which is why we contacted Llantilio Pertholey Community Council in the first place,” said Mrs Spinks.

“In the short term we have written to all parents asking if they can avoid driving to school wherever necessary and we are also looking at finding somewhere for parents to park some distance away from the school so we can create a walking bus to bring children to school in safety.”

While the school makes efforts to ensure the safety of its pupils, parents have reacted angrily to the community council’s decision to withdraw the parking facility and one concerned mother Ceris Van de Vyver has called on the council to re-open the car park.

“I have a real concern for the safety of my child and of all other community children when walking to school,” she told the Chronicle.

“ I believe as a community we should protect our children and make it a priority.  By simply opening up the car park and allowing cars to drop off children, it eases congestion on the roads in the area. This in turn makes it safer for everyone.   

“I am very disappointed and upset with Councillor Cowan’s response to my emails to him and I feel he is so far removed from understanding and engaging with the community on this matter.”

Local residents have also rallied to support the school and praise the way staff and governors have worked to keep them up to date with developments.

“I was very impressed that they sent out a letter to residents as soon as the parking problems started,” said Maureen Jackson, who lives at Jubilee Court just yards from the school gates.

“The council may say this is a health and safety issue but it seems they’re just being stroppy because if it’s a health and safety issue for the school it’s a health and safety issue for hall users. It’s quite clear to me that the community councillors have no concept of the word ‘community’."

"On May 4, we are going to elect our new community councillors, and I don’t know any of the ones we’ve got now. They show up a month before we vote and then you never see them again. I’ve got a good mind to go to the polling booth with this letter from the school and ask ’who are the councillors who decided this?’ then rip it up in front of them,” said Ms Jackson.

“Where’s their community spirit?” she added. 

Pupils have also spoken out with ten year old Dyland saying, “I always come to school on my bike. On Monday there were cars everywhere and I had to go on the pavement to be safe. I was quite scary.”

Ten year old Tayla added, “Closing up the gates is causing lots of traffic around the school which means that children and adults in more danger than usual. This seems silly when there is a car park right near the school that could help us all.”

 A spokesman for Monmouthshire County Council said, “We have been grateful to Llantilio Pertholey Community Council for the use of its hall car park next to Ysgol y Fenni over many years. 

“This facility has alleviated traffic problems in the locality.  In addition, our highways team has installed a pedestrian crossing on the road outside the school to improve safety for pedestrians and we have produced designs for on-site mini bus parking. 

“On Monday, March 27 Ysgol y Fenni’s headteacher advised us that access to the car park was withdrawn and difficulties ensued.  We will write to the community council to request that it reconsiders its action. 

“Meanwhile, we have an obligation to conduct our undertakings in a safe manner so we will commence assessments to establish that we are doing all reasonably practicable to manage the risks.”

Although contacted Councillor Cowan declined to comment.