Oldham Council approved, at Cabinet on July 21st, proposing an alternative site option for consideration in the project to deliver the new Saddleworth School.
The project to build the new Saddleworth School is being managed by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) on behalf of the Department for Education but Oldham Council are responsible for identifying potential site options and negotiating any necessary legal agreements. This is needed for whichever site is chosen.
The EFA are currently undertaking feasibility studies on four site options – two on the existing Saddleworth School site in Uppermill and the two on the former pallet works in Diggle. One will be selected later this year to take forward to the formal planning process.
In April 2014 the council completed legal agreements, in principle, to potentially buy land at the former WH Shaw Pallet Works in Diggle. This option proposed to site the new school on land at the front of the site, adjacent to Huddersfield Road.
The council has now approved an option to complete legal negotiations to purchase the rear of the site, if it is selected by the EFA.
This option would provide a bigger site of approximately 18 acres in size. It would see industrial buildings cleared to make way for the new school, sports hall and ancillary buildings, and be more sympathetic to the local environment. In this proposal, Green Belt land at the site would still be used for sports pitch provision.
Jim McMahon, Oldham Council Leader, said: “To achieve the best outcome for everyone we know the concerns of local residents have to be balanced with the need to deliver a new school.”
“We’ve listened to the community’s concerns about the earlier Diggle proposals and are proposing a scheme here that would mitigate the potential impact.
“There are still a number of significant issues to deal with but using the rear site addresses the concerns about building structures on the front field.
“This could provide a credible long-term site offering the school a fit-for-purpose educational facility because of its sheer size.
“Another plus would be the demolition of industrial buildings, which are an eyesore.
“The Grade II-listed clocktower building at this site is excluded from the EFA’s options and budget. The council is now prepared to buy and explore grant funding options to enable its restoration as part of the development. This would enable us to bring it back into use in a way which would complement the school.
“The previous Diggle option also proposed siting a sports hall and ancillary buildings on Green Belt land. Those buildings would now be accommodated elsewhere.
“Buying the rear site would mean additional costs for the project. However, as a council we are prepared to contribute towards funding that gap. We also remain 100 per cent committed to the works and associated costs we already know would be required to address people’s concerns about highways, parking and access issues.
“The EFA has been informed of our position. They confirmed they will consider this option as part of their feasibility study which is evaluating all the site options in terms of location, size and suitability. [and cost – Editor]
“They will now undertake the further survey work required to consider this option and hope to report back in September with a decision on which site to take into the formal planning process.”
Independent Councillor Nikki Kirkham said “we have had positive discussions with the EFA in recent months and we met with their senior officers recently in Manchester to discuss the Uppermill options and the difficulties with the Diggle site. It is now clear that the extra costs of building at Diggle will be far in excess of those at Uppermill. The technical and planning difficulties at Diggle are also formidable. I believe the EFA now see the Uppermill options as better value for money.”
Independent Councillor Mike Buckley speaking on behalf of the SDAG said “I can only conclude that the latest attempt by Oldham Council is a panic move to pressurise the EFA to build the school in Diggle. I can’t understand why the Council are so determined to move the school to Diggle when the people of Saddleworth have made it clear that they want the school to stay in Uppermill. The fact we are going to get a new school is not in dispute, nor is the fact that the school can be built in Uppermill. Oldham are now proposing that ratepayers money will be used to ensure the school moves to Diggle. This shows the lengths the Council will go to ignore the wishes of Saddleworth people and to ensure the land swap deal is not derailed.”
Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, said: “Once again I re-state my belief that that the need for a new Saddleworth School fit for our young people in the 21st century is paramount. I am glad that the Government and EFA are undertaking these additional feasibility studies as I requested. Once these are published I will be in a position to consider any new evidence. I welcome the EFA’s move away from the intransigent position it first took when I raised constituents’ concerns.”
Stuart Coleman, Diggle Community Association Chairman said: “It is clear to me that, for whatever reason, OMBC are intent on developing the Diggle site despite the feasibility study on the four proposed sites not being completed yet. Even though this information is vital to making an informed decision, Oldham Council appear to remain set on Diggle. Many residents remain baffled as to why this is and don’t believe this single-minded drive at Diggle can produce a quality outcome because there are so many issues still to be resolved.”
Keith Lucas, member of SDAG said: “SDAG have campaigned tirelessly to get people in official positions to take on board the massive concerns of residents, tourists, educationalists and well wishers to be open and transparent in this controversial planning proposal. I am therefore delighted that OMBC are now realising the genuine concerns and groundswell of opposition to the proposed Saddleworth school rebuild in Diggle.