Leading Saddleworth Independent Councillors and Saddleworth School campaigners travelled to Coventry last Thursday to present a petition to the Education Funding Agency (EFA) urging the Agency to built the New Saddleworth Secondary School in Uppermill rather than Diggle. The EFA are currently assessing four sites as options for the location of the new school. The petition, signed by over 3,000 Saddleworth residents and other concerned parties was handed to Mr Mike Green, Education Funding Agency (EFA), Director of Capital, at the Agencies offices in Coventry. A forty-five minute meeting followed with Mr Green in which he explained the EFAs position and the present state of the feasibility study.
The Group were surprised to learn that, contrary to impressions given to date, the EFA are only responsible for the feasibility studies, not the final decision on the location of the new school. This is entirely the responsibility of the Local Authority and School Governors. Provided the preferred site is technically feasible and acceptable in cost terms, the EFA will build the school where Oldham Council wants it built.
Contrary to previous statements by Oldham Council and MP, Debbie Abrahams, there is no fixed budget of £17 million for the project, site specific factors will determine the final costs. If these are acceptable for a particular site the EFA will build the school in the location preferred by Oldham Council.
Finally, Mr Green stressed that there was clearly a need for a new school in Saddleworth and the EFA are fully committed to deliver a state of the art school within the existing programme. There is no threat to the project by the present feasibility studies, these are necessary to ensure that planning issues have been properly addressed and that the school build will go ahead smoothly without technical difficulties once a final decision on location is taken.
Cllr Mike Buckley said “Mr Green was very candid with us. He gave us straight answers to all the questions we asked. We were very grateful that he gave us nearly an hour of his time and listened carefully to our concerns. This was in strong contrast to the response we have received to date from Jim McMahon, the Leader of Oldham Council, and MP, Debbie Abrahams. I am happy to say that we have now arranged a date, on 13/12/14, to meet Debbie Abrahams but we still haven’t been able to fix a date with Jim McMahon. All we want from both meetings is to hand over the petition and discuss why they favour the Diggle location over Uppermill.”
Cllr Nikki Kirkham, who handed the petition to Mr Green said “Residents and parents have been mislead by Oldham Council and the major political parties. They have claimed that the decision on the site rests with the EFA, clearly now this is not the case. Oldham Council will make the final decision. It is a disgrace that there has been no consultation with local people on this decision, that they won’t speak to us and that we have tried to deflect responsibility for the decision to the EFA. Jim McMahon should be prepared to meet the people of Saddleworth at a public meeting and justify why he wants the school in Diggle.”
Stuart Coleman, who attended representing the Diggle Community Association echoed these concerns “We have invited Cllr Chadderton to our meetings to discuss the school issue but she has declined. Debbie Abrahams, our MP, apparently also does not wish to discuss the issue until a decision has been made. I’m pleased that Independent Councillors have been able to secure a date to meet with her to discuss the issue and hand over the petition.”
Councillor Jim McMahon, Oldham Council Leader, said: “The claim that Oldham Council and Saddleworth School governors are solely responsible for the decision about the new school site is not accurate. The Education Funding Agency (EFA) has been undertaking a feasibility study to review the options available to address the significant need at Saddleworth School.
“The EFA has been liaising with Oldham Council and the school throughout the study. They will soon announce the results of the study which has considered a large range of factors including residents’ views, location, size and suitability.
“The council has identified four potential options for the new school and believes that the rear site at Diggle offers the best long-term option. This takes into account the school’s desire to create a quality campus with good facilities. In addition, this option minimises disruption to the education of the children during the construction process.
“We now await the EFA to confirm the outcome of the feasibility study in deciding which site to take forward into the planning process. We believe that all points of view are being taken into account and hope that the interests of the children are considered first and foremost.
“Whichever option is chosen, the council continues to pledge to do all that it can to assist with any required works. We also remain fully committed to working alongside the EFA and their contractor to consult on the proposed development with the local community.”