Oldham Council has now signed the legal agreements with partners to deliver the proposed new Saddleworth School at Diggle.
The local authority has been in negotiations to acquire an area of land at the former WH Shaw Pallets Works in Diggle to be funded using the existing school site on High Street, Uppermill, in exchange.
The option agreement now enables Oldham Council to complete this purchase at any time in the forthcoming months. This will be done if and when Interserve, the construction partner selected by Government, obtains planning permission for the proposed development this summer.
The next steps will now see detailed design meetings taking place between Oldham Council, Saddleworth School, the Education Funding Agency, which manages the project for the Department for Education, and Interserve.
The discussions aim to draw up a series of vital works that would be needed in the Diggle area. These include carriageway and footpath widening works, the introduction of a School Safety Zone, the development of a residents’ car park and fencing work.
Councillor Amanda Chadderton, Cabinet Member for Education, Employment and Skills, visited the site today to discuss the plans with Matthew Milburn, Headteacher at Saddleworth School.
She said, “It’s excellent news that we now have the necessary legal agreements in place to deliver a new Saddleworth School in Diggle. The meetings that will be held next will take around eight weeks to complete and they will be absolutely vital to this project. We know that some people in the local community have expressed concerns about the plans. It’s now our challenge to come up with a scheme of associated works that can deliver the best possible solution on these matters, and we are passionate about succeeding in that task.
“We know we must work hard to get the detail right in order to deliver a modern new secondary school that works for Saddleworth. Once the proposed works and designs are drawn up we will, as we have always promised, share these with the public for feedback before any planning application is submitted by Interserve.”
Matthew Milburn added: “Saddleworth School is an important institution but the local community is equally important to us. Our technical group is looking forward to playing a full part in these discussions and helping to ensure the proposed improvements and designs offer the best possible outcome.This will be a very challenging phase of the project and one that we are all committed to getting right.”
The public are advised that contractors will be at the WH Shaw Pallets site this week dealing with a dangerous structure on the area of land not being acquired by the council to the rear of the site. Surveyors advised the current landowners that part of the building is unstable and needs urgent action.
Full demolition of the building is not necessary but some parts of the upper storey, three elevations and the roof, will need to be removed.
Cllr Chadderton said, “The landowners informed us that engineers fear there could be a partial collapse within the building. This work is needed to prevent any potential danger to members of the public who use the canal tow path. Public safety is paramount, of course and, although this minor demolition work is totally unrelated to the Saddleworth School proposals, it is a reminder of the industrial nature of some of the existing site and its current state.”
Saddleworth Parish Councillor Mike Buckley, speaking on behalf of those who oppose the building of a school in Diggle, said in response to the above press release, ‘It contains no new information and reiterates OMBC’s determination to press ahead against all odds with building the new school in Diggle. In the absence of the promised capital receipt from the land swap deal, OMBC have now committed a substantial sum of ratepayer’s money to embark on the necessary infrastructure work that the council are liable for under their agreement with the government’s funding agency.
“Despite repeated requests for information, the Council have resolutely refused to publish the extent of their financial liability or details of the works they will have to undertake. Recent press reports have highlighted the access difficulties with the Diggle site and the likely threat to pedestrian safety. It is alarming that no detailed survey of highway conditions or pedestrian access has yet been carried out and that this seems unlikely to take place in advance of planning permission being applied for.
‘We have been informed that Interserve, the contracter, will be responsible for this survey and analysis. If highway work goes ahead in advance of these technical surveys and planning permission being secured there is a great deal of scope for abortive work and wasted money. Widening the road at one point is futile when passing problems remain elsewhere and footpath difficulties and pedestrian safety issues remain unresolved.
“The whole issue of sports pitches is still up in he air, with no statement as to what will be provided at Diggle and where the pitches will be located. Flood defenses and the destruction of the nesting sites of protected species also remain unresolved problems. There are many risks and bridges to cross in achieving planning permission and therefore, it cannot be a 100% certainty as has been claimed.
“As the difficulties and complexities of the planned move are becoming apparent timescales have slipped twelve months since the announcements last October. Recent information is that the school will not now be ready until 2016 and it is unlikely that Interserve will be in position to submit planning permission before the end of this year, twelve months later than initially promised by OMBC.
“Diggle is a high risk strategy, and a totally unnecessary high risk. It has now been accepted that the only substantive reason why the new school cannot be built on the existing site in Uppermill, is value for money – i.e cost. But no detailed costings of either proposal have yet been carried out and OMBC refuse to publish any information on the costs of building on either site.
“Opposition to the Diggle proposals is growing by the day, not just from Diggle residents, but also from residents and businesses in Uppermill, Greenfield and all over Saddleworth. All parts of the district will be negatively impacted by the relocation. The present numbers who have signed our paper and on-line petitions now stands at 2500 and the total is growing by the hour. In contrast, only 160 signatures have been collected by the on-line petition, launched several months ago, to support the move of the school to Diggle.
“The campaign to build in Uppermill will go on and we still hope that reason and common sense will prevail within the ranks of Oldham Council. Saddleworth can have a new school without all the problems that its relocation to Diggle entails. All it takes is an open mind on the part of OMBC and the school governors and the will to make it happen.”