Boos and cries of Lib-Dem shame rang out from the public gallery at last night’s Parish Council meeting as members voted to support the proposed building of a new school in Diggle.
On the 28th October 2013, the council had resolved to support Saddleworth residents in their campaign for the new school to be built on the existing site in Uppermill and to oppose the building of the new school on the Diggle site. The amendment introduced, by Cllr Cullen, last night and voted through with a small majority, reversed this.
The large turnout of over seventy Saddleworth residents forced the meeting to be moved from its regular room into the larger main hall at Uppermill Civic Centre. At the start to the meeting, the public asked a number of questions ranging from: What is the Parish Council doing to honor its commitment to the protection of greenbelt in Saddleworth? Will they be asking for a full cost break down? What have they done since they voted against building in Diggle? What are the suggested road improvements in Diggle and how will they be accomplished? Will the new school be sympathetic to the Saddleworth environment? Is it reasonable to view this build as the ‘least worst option’? What are the majority views of the children and parents? How will downstream areas be protected from flooding?
Before the council discussed item 18 on the agenda, the motion proposed by Councillor Cullen:
‘The Parish Council, now knowing that it is not possible to build the new school on the Uppermill site, agree to do all they can to support the building of a new school on the Diggle site. This being the only available alternative. ‘
The chair of the Parish Council, Cllr Graham Sheldon, stepped down, to cries of dismay from the public gallery, stating that he could not chair this item following advice he had received from the borough solicitor. On leaving the room he said that, “My own interests are at the bottom of my priority list.” Cllr Firth took responsibility for the chair.
In response to the motion Cllr Buckley said, “It has never been stated that the school can’t be built in Uppermill. How is it possible to make decisions without costings and details? It is crucial that OMBC release detailed information backing their decisions.”
Cllr Knotts said, “There is a total lack of transparency. How can we make decisions without like for like comparisons. Major decisions, such as traffic management, should not be left to contractors.”
Cllr Lord said the Uppermill site was assessed in 2009 and was judged to unsuitable.
Cllr Harkness said, “It’s a choice, the Diggle site or no site”.
Cllr Allsop reminded everyone that, “The Parish Council has no authority over OMBC and we can’t instruct them to do anything.”
Although there were denials regarding the influence of party politics, there was a clear split in the Council with the majority of Lib-dems supporting the Diggle build and the majority of Independents opposing it. The Lib-Dems clearly believe that losing the Diggle site will result in there being no new school in Saddleworth. The Independents, on the other hand, can’t see why the Uppermill site can’t be seriously considered and a fair, informed comparison be made.
Compromise is clearly the order of the day. I just hope, for the sake of Saddleworth and its children, it’s not a compromise too far.