3rd Mar, 2021

Coventry Conservatives launch alternative budget with plans to save council's 'superior' teacher-led outdoor education centre in Snowdonia

“THERE are no plans to close Plas Dol-y-Moch” Labour’s education cabinet leader affirmed yesterday (Monday February 22).

Coun Kevin Maton, cabinet member for Education and Skills at Coventry City Council, was speaking after Coventry Conservatives launched an alternative budget with plans to save the council’s outdoor education centre in Snowdonia and tackle the city’s “pot-hole crisis” at its heart.

Plas Dol-y-Moch, a 17th century country house in Maentwrog, Blaenau Ffestiniog, has provided teacher-led environmental education and adventure sessions from canoeing and abseiling to mountaineering for generations of Coventry schoolchildren since 1966.

Since the March lockdown last year, the centre has remained closed.

An internal consultation by Coventry City Council looking at implementing a new management restructure ended yesterday (Monday February 22) with findings expected by March.

But Coventry Conservative party says the council’s “flawed” proposal to move the outdoor education centre to a more commercial model has received widespread criticism, especially from the Friends of Dol-y-Moch group and the National Education Union. They say it will put jobs at risk and jeopardise the valuable experience of many school children.

Coventry City Council Conservative Group leader Coun Gary Ridley said: “Going to Plas Dol-y-Moch is almost a rite of passage for kids in Coventry. Support for it is almost hard-wired into our psyche in the same way as it is for the NHS. It’s been providing a quality service for years and I’m deeply concerned by this threat to its future. Our alternative budget would ensure its survival.”

Within their ‘alternative budget’ an additional £150,000 would protect jobs and ensure that Dol-y-Moch continues as a teacher-led facility for Coventry children to use well into the future, equal to the amount it has lost over the past year due to Covid.

Coun John Blundell, Conservative spokesman for education said Dol-y-Moch had already secured 11,600 bookings for September 2021 -22.

He said: “For 55 years the centre has provided Coventry children with a unique opportunity to enjoy a true outdoor education led by experienced qualified teachers. The council’s proposals would greatly demean the provision for Coventry children.”

Responding to the Tory campaign Coun Maton, said: “There is nothing to save. Dol-y-Moch is not closing.”

He said the outdoor education centre, which is currently run by three senior managers, does not currently receive statutory government funding but had proved its worth over many years.

Coun Maton said the council is looking at expanding affordable outdoor education provision locally and was mindful that many families have been hit hard during the Covid crisis – with some likely to be apprehensive about residential trips.

The Friends of Plas Dol y Moch has expressed “grave concerns” about the proposals saying users have not been properly consulted, the council is not planning to re-open the centre until January 2022 and then only at 25% capacity and is worried at the impact this will have on disadvantaged children, including those with SEND and disabilities.

It says if the removal of all legal limits on social contact goes ahead by June 21 under Boris Johnson’s latest road map and the country sees the beneficial effects of mass vaccination, residential education could be ready to reopen by September 1 with Covid safe procedures. The group has called for a new full consultation with all stakeholders.

Chair Mike Ballinger said: “Before the lockdown last year the centre was incredibly successful and financially viable. It makes more sense to come to a decision after the Budget in March.

“To remove teachers and change the focus of the management has grave implications for the educational ethos of Plas Dol-y-Moch. Many teachers I have spoken to say is a unique setting and far superior to many other centres they have been to as teachers. While I appreciate officers and councillors are struggling with a difficult decision, we urge them to do the right thing by our young people.”

Around the UK it has been reported that several outdoor centres have closed permanently, and many others have warned that they face collapse due to a lack of government support.

Just before Christmas in neighbouring Warwickshire, the council announced plans to close Marle Hall, also in Snowdonia, with parents and teachings mounting a 3,500 strong online petition calling for it to be saved.

Conservatives councillor Tim Sawdon said: “This budget will tackle waste and vested interest and put resources back into the hands of the people of Coventry. It will provide a much-needed boost to our highways, improve road safety and ensure the future of Dol-y-Moch for generations to come. Our plan has only been made possible by the support we’ve received from government. They have provided this authority with £55m in support to tackle Covid-19 and given us our largest ever capital programme. It is a budget for the whole of Coventry and shows a different way is possible.”

In addition to offering support for Dol-y-Moch, Coventry Conservatives are also keen to set out a £200,000 programme of pot-hole repairs, provide £140,000 for road safety schemes and prioritise the creation of ’20 mph’ zones around the city.

They say cash could be made available through spending less on councillors pay by reducing the size of the city’s key decision-making body, scrapping deputy cabinet members altogether and cutting money given to the trades unions each year.

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