Three primary schools in the Swansea Valley will close in 2024, with pupils transferring to a new single establishment in Pontardawe.
School will be out for summer and for good in three years' time for Alltwen and Llangiwg, in the Pontardawe area, and Godre'rgraig, Ystalyfera.
The replacement school will be built on council-owned land at Parc Ynysderw, Pontardawe, and form part of a campus-style development including Pontardawe Leisure Centre and Cwmtawe Community School. The campus will also feature a new 25m, six-lane swimming pool.
READ MORE:Why this businessman thinks he can deliver a £250m adventure resort in the Afan Valley in three years
The new English-medium primary will accommodate 630 full-time pupils and 140 part-time nursery age pupils and include a learning support centre for children with autism.
Neath Port Talbot Council's cabinet unanimously approved the proposal on October 20 following an impassioned education scrutiny committee meeting. The committee supported the recommendation by 12 votes to 11, with one abstention.
Find great options for your family in your local area:
Councillors who opposed it questioned the pupil intake figure for the new £22.7 million school, saying the three primaries only had 533 children between them.
"Where are the other pupils coming from?" said Cllr Alun Llewelyn.
He also wanted to know if other sites had been assessed for a new Godre'rgraig primary, which had to relocate to the grounds of Cwmtawe Community School in 2019 due to a potential landslide risk at its Ystalyfera home.
Cllr Steve Hunt asked why no virtual meetings had been held by the council during a consultation on the proposal, and also felt the Welsh Government's 21st Century Schools programme - the mechanism to deliver new schools - should focus more on updating existing ones.
Cllr Rosalyn Davies said the proposed new school was "not a community school" for pupils travelling five miles to it from Godre'rgraig and Ystalyfera.
You can now get all of the need-to-know news sent straight to your inbox by signing up for our free WalesOnline newsletter.
It takes just seconds to subscribe - simply click here, enter your email address and follow the instructions.
But Cllr Suzanne Paddison said new schools like the one proposed offered a broader range of subjects than smaller ones.
"What we are trying to achieve here is a major step up in the type of education the children receive," she said.
Cllr Anthony Richards, who represents Pontardawe, quizzed officers on the potential traffic impacts of the new school given, he said, the access road was a narrow, cul-de-sac.
"How are we going to make this road safe?" he said.
Ongoing concerns, he added, about the volume of traffic at Cwmtawe Community School had been flagged up by its head teacher.
Director of environment, Nicola Pearce, said a travel plan and traffic impact assessment would be provided as part of a planning application for the new school, and that an independent road survey would also be commissioned.
Traffic regulation orders could be considered to mitigate any impacts, she said, while the travel plan would encourage staff and parents to rely less on cars.
Cllr Sandra Miller said her experience of new schools under the 21st Century Schools programme was very positive and that the council should be "grabbing" the opportunity.
"If we don't I think we would be doing the children a disservice," she said.
Cllr Nigel Hunt said he detected a Labour whip being applied to committee members from that party, which was rejected.
He said: "I have profound concerns that we are dealing with a very familiar fait accompli."
The committee heard there were 297 objections to the new school proposal during a statutory objection period.
One of these said children "will be lost in a sea of 650 faces", while another said "the sense of community is so important in villages such as ours in the Swansea Valley and we cannot lose this".
The Welsh Government will fund 65% of the new school, which will cater for an expected growth in children in the catchment area, as well as the intake from the three primaries.
Cabinet members lined up to support the creation of the new school after the scrutiny meeting ended.
Cllr Carol Clement-Williams said she she was "absolutely amazed" that objecting members of the scrutiny committee had not talked about the education of the children, and added that the new learning support centre would allow children with autism to attend the same school as their brothers and sisters.
Cllr Mike Harvey said school closure decisions were the hardest councillors had to make.
"When we do it we have to look at the bigger picture," he said. "It (the new school) will be absolutely fantastic for young people in the Swansea Valley."
And Cllr Peter Rees said: "These children and future generations of children deserve the best we can provide."
Maintenance backlogs of £3.2 million for the three primaries and the existing pool at Pontardawe Leisure Centre will be erased by the decision to build the new school.
Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd for South Wales West, Sioned Williams, has slammed Neath Port Talbot Council’s “undemocratic” decision to close the schools despite “overwhelming local opposition” to the plans.
Sioned Williams expressed her “grave concerns” about the way in which the decision was made, its potential negative effects on the community, as well as its detrimental effect on the Welsh language.
The MS said: “I am deeply disappointed by NPT Council Cabinet’s decision to undermine local education in the Swansea Valley.
“The vast majority of parents and residents who have contacted me about the proposals believe that their children’s education would be best served in maintaining a link between the schools and their communities rather than develop such a huge primary school on a centralised site.
“The loss of playing fields, the negative impact on active travel, traffic congestion and air quality were also raised as concerns.
“Consultation is at the heart of democracy. The message from Swansea Valley residents was clear: they do not approve of these plans. NPT Labour Council should not impose this plan from above - a plan not developed in partnership nor with the support of the community. To plough ahead with this decision is utterly undemocratic and quite frankly shameful.
“Concerns that the council has not sufficiently considered the impact of the plan on the Welsh language led to the Welsh Government commissioning a report and pausing the process. That report identifies significant harmful effects to the Welsh language from this proposal. The report has not yet been made fully public, and I believe it is premature for the local authority to reach a decision before such a crucial document is made fully accessible to local elected representatives and residents.