I was shocked to read the front page headline in the Chron on Wed 9th regarding the proposed Saddleworth School, as the Chron is clearly not questioning the fallacious PR campaign being run by OMBC. The “deal” referred to was simply the signing of a previously agreed deal. It in no way merited a front page headline, since the key “deal” yet to be done on the new school involves planning permission, which is not applied for yet, and will be substantially challenged by the huge groundswell of public opinion in Saddleworth; which is opposed to this totally ill-conceived, un-thought out and un-consulted proposal.

It’s not a done deal, there is a huge number of hurdles still to pass on this.  They are too numerous to list fully here, but involving Sport England (who will oppose the planning if it does not include a like for like “all weather pitch” as part of the plans, and for which it seems OMBC do not have sufficient funds); and huge transport and access issues that have not been costed (& which if fully taken into account will be more than the cost of developing the Uppermill site).  The site itself is not flat, and subject to flooding; so there will be enormous disruption to the natural land levels in the valley, and huge levelling costs – added costs which are also not fully accounted for.  All of this will lead to inevitable compromise on the buildings themselves, to save the corresponding cost.  Will the building be built of stone, and will it be the expensive ‘E’shape shown on the plans, or will these be sacrificed when the authorities realise just how much solving the planning issues will cost?

Turning to the deal itself; only half the access road is part of the deal (the other half will be an industrial road retained by the site owners and serving HGVs owners).  A further part of the deal, if the Uppermill site should not get planning for houses, gives the developer the right to pull out, but still get paid for the Diggle site. What kind of a deal is this – certainly not one in the public interest?  How can a deal swapping over eight acres of prime residential land in Uppermill for three and three-quarter acres of industrial land and nine and a half acres of green belt land ever be in the public interest if it does not involve a cash receipt of a minimum of five million pounds, (and a commercial valuation would doubtless show a higher figure)?  If it is indeed a’done deal’ then I see no reason why the figure cannot now be released for public scrutiny, before the elections.

OMBC has stated on its website that parts of the school will be built on green belt land.  OMBC is the custodian of the green belt, and should be doing all it can to protect it; and the local councillors who are meekly accepting/encouraging this outrageous attack on the green belt should hang their heads in shame.  OMBC could easily have avoided any building on the green belt.  There has been almost no local consultation in the plans so far, so are we to expect the same kind of imposed democracy when this actually goes to planning?  Can we genuinely expect the officials at OMBC to take into account the views of the 2600 local people so far that have signed a petition against this (as opposed to only 160 who have signed in support), when no consideration whatsoever has really been given so far to local opinion? They have already prejudged the green belt issues, how many other issues will be swept under the carpet, as they did with the all-weather pitch at Crompton House?

The EFA has categorically stated that the existing site can STILL be considered, and that it is only cost that is the issue. Are we to believe OMBC can find money for the Diggle site, but not the existing one, when there is as a risk that there may be no proceeds from the Uppermill sale?  The OMBC PR campaign would do well to listen to genuine local views, rather than trying to impose a fundamentally flawed decision that has not taken into account all the issues.

Stuart Illingworth



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