Debbie Abrahams (Photo: Stuart Coleman©2013)

Debbie Abrahams (Photo: Stuart Coleman©2013)

Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, has written to update over 500 residents in Diggle on the responses to her postal and doorstep survey regarding Saddleworth School.

After having sight of the ‘technical assessments’ from the Council, and given the restrictions of the allowed budget and the Government’s timetable, she says she believes Diggle is the ‘least worst option’ for locating a new school.

She says: “In regards to the building of a much needed new school in the area, I have said from the start, I think the Government has treated Saddleworth badly. The proposed school’s new location and specification are far from ideal and are clearly driven by cost. At the same time the Government has effectively taken £4 million from Oldham Council to set up a ‘free’ school in Chadderton. I have been most disappointed with the intransigence of the Government. The Education Funding Agency have also not been particularly forthcoming.

“In my letter to residents I have said that I believe the development of a new Saddleworth School for our young people, fit for the 21st century, is paramount. Although there are still significant issues that need to be resolved, particularly around addressing access/traffic and flood risk issues, I understand that the school, Council and EFA will be doing this as part of the planning application process.

“Whilst the Diggle site is not ideal, especially at the front and so close to Huddersfield Road, I do believe that it is probably the least worst option, given the restrictions of the allowed budget and Government timetable.

“I believe the School recognise that there are genuine concerns from residents especially those living on Huddersfield Road. I have urged the school and Council to look at how they can engage with residents more effectively, so that any development is based on active involvement in decision-making that affects them, and is taken forward in a constructive and sensitive manner. Ongoing dialogue is essential. I will continue to monitor the new school’s development as it progresses although I have no formal role in the planning process.”

The letter to Diggle residents:

(Please note – Some versions of the letter may differ depending on the recipient’s previous correspondence with Debbie Abrahams’ office.)

Dear (Name),

Proposed Saddleworth School development

Further to my letter to you on this issue, please find enclosed a copy of the response I have received from the Council in answer to my representations on your behalf.  In addition, I would like to provide you with a summary of the feedback I received.

Over 100 people have responded to the postal and doorstep surveys I conducted. Of these nearly everyone raised the primacy of having a new school for our young people in Saddleworth. However, there were genuine concerns about the preferred site for the new school and the associated issues. These included exacerbating access along Huddersfield Road, increasing flood risk on an existing flood plain with the development, a potential safety risk because of the proximity to the canal and the visual impact of the school.  85% expressed concerns about the location of the new School, the process by which the site had been selected and the community had been engaged.

As you are aware, I wrote to the Council to raise these concerns, and subsequently met with Cllrs Jim McMahon and Amanda Chadderton.  I have also been in regular contact with the School’s Governors and management team. And as you know from my previous letter, in November I met with the Minister responsible for these decisions, David Laws, and a representative of the Education Funding Agency to lobby for more funding for the school’s development and to raise the emerging issues. The next evening, I had a conference call with members of the Save Diggle Action Group to let them know the disappointing news from the Minister.

You may recall I requested that the Council provide me with access to the technical assessments undertaken both as part of the defunct ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme and the more recent options appraisal ‘refresh’ as part of the ‘Priority Schools Building Programme’ and EFA requirements in identifying a suitable site for the new school; this amounted to approximately 600 pages. I have now had an opportunity to examine these documents.

As I have said before, I believe the development of a new Saddleworth School for our young people, fit for the 21st century, is paramount. Although there are issues that still need to be resolved, for example, plans to address access/traffic and flood risk issues, I understand that the School, Council and EFA will be doing this as part of the planning application process.  Whilst the Diggle site is not ideal (especially at the front and so close to Huddersfield Road), I do believe that it is probably the least worst option, given the restrictions of the allowed budget and Government timetable.

I believe the School recognise that there are genuine concerns from residents especially those living on Huddersfield Road. I have urged the School and Council to look at how they can engage with residents more effectively, so that any development is based on active involvement in decision-making that affects them, and is taken forward in a constructive and sensitive manner. Ongoing dialogue is essential.

I will continue to monitor the new school’s development as it progresses although I have no formal role in the planning process. I will try and keep you updated on this issue (and many others!) in my monthly e-newsletter.

Thank you for reading this. I wish you a happy, healthy and peaceful 2014.

Yours sincerely,

Debbie Abrahams MP

 

 

 

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