Following the completion of a long awaited feasibility study, the Education Funding Agency (EFA) has decided that the new Saddleworth School should be built on the rear WH Shaw site in Diggle.
The feasibility study assessed the suitability of four options: two using the existing Saddleworth School site in Uppermill; one using land at the front of the WH Shaw site; and one using land at the rear of the WH Shaw site. The options were examined against a range of vital considerations including costs and budget, buildability and construction, teaching and learning requirements, statutory issues, ecology, and operational issues.
The EFA is managing the project on behalf of the Department for Education as part of the Government’s Priority School Building Programme, a £2.4 billion programme to rebuild or refurbish 260 schools in the worst state across the country.
This option, contested by many local residents but preferred by Saddleworth School and Oldham Council
will provide the largest possible site for the new school – approximately 18 acres in size – and would see dilapidated industrial buildings cleared to make way for the new school, sports hall and ancillary buildings. Green Belt land would be used for the provision of sports pitches, which would be available for community use.
Matthew Milburn, Headteacher of Saddleworth School, said: “This is a hugely important day for Saddleworth School and the local community. We know the location of the new school has been a contentious issue and it was absolutely right that all possible options were evaluated and all interests considered.
“This feasibility study takes a large number of factors into account and has been a significant piece of work by the EFA. We welcome confirmation of the preferred site and are now keen to get working alongside all interested parties to get the detail right and deliver the fantastic school that Saddleworth has long needed.”
An EFA spokesperson said: “We have now completed the feasibility study for the new Saddleworth School. It was important that we assessed the suitability of each option identified to ensure that the most viable and suitable option was chosen. In the final analysis the site to the rear of the Pallet Works in Diggle stood out as being the best option.
“Today (16/1/15) we are meeting several interested parties to discuss the findings. We then look forward to working alongside them and our contractor to move this project forward.”
Councillor Amanda Chadderton, Oldham Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, said: “It was absolutely right that we listened to public feedback and concerns and that the EFA thoroughly examined all options.”
“We know there are challenges associated with the chosen Diggle site in terms of vital works needed. These will include carriageway and footpath widening, residents’ car parking, fencing work, the introduction of a School Safety Zone and more. Oldham Council has committed to undertaking these works to support the successful delivery of the project.”
Councillor Nikki Kirkham, Ward councillor for Saddleworth North said: The majority of people in Saddleworth have been very clear that they would like Saddleworth School to remain in Uppermill. They believe this is the most cost effective way to go as sports facilities are already in place and the road network has proved it can cope with the School traffic.
“The campaign by The Independent Councillors and the SDAG will go on despite this announcement. Relevant questions still need to be asked. Children’s safety, traffic and transport issues and environmental protection are paramount. I hope that OMBC will hold a full consultation with the residents of Saddleworth as to the Council’s detailed intentions on all the issues raised by this new build.
“One of the main reasons I was elected as a representative of Saddleworth North is because of the controversy surrounding the decision on the siting of the new School. It was a landslide victory for the Saddleworth Independents because as a group we were fighting to protect Saddleworth’s outstanding beauty.
“We all agree Saddleworth needs a new School but please lets try to protect our beautiful valleys. We risk losing our natural landscape forever.”
Keith Lucas, spokesperson for Save Diggle Action Group said: “The decision is no surprise, we already informed our supporters in advance earlier this week. It is a disgrace that this decision has been taken without allowing the parents, residents and businesses of Saddleworth to have their say. The school, the EFA and Oldham Council, are party to the decision; why not the people that will have to live with the outcome for generations to come?
“The chosen site is fraught with safety, environmental and strategic planning issues not just for Diggle but for the surrounding villages. Our campaign will continue to legally and democratically fight to build a school for Saddleworth in Uppermill where most Saddleworth residents want it to be.”
Local Councillor Mike Buckley said: “The people of Saddleworth want the school to remain in Uppermill. This is the best location on both cost, operational and technical grounds. We will be scrutinising the EFA findings carefully, supported by our technical advisers. The campaign will continue despite the announcement. Achieving planning consent for Diggle will be neither speedy nor straightforward.”
Mark Brooks, Chairperson for the Diggle Community Association said: “The Diggle Community Association is saddened and angered by the news that the new Saddleworth School is proposed to built on the former pallet works site in Diggle Village.
“For whatever reason, OMBC have been intent on developing the Diggle site despite the depth of feeling throughout Saddleworth. This is quite simply the wrong location for a 1500 pupil school. The site is fraught with danger and technical issues. The children of Saddleworth and its residents deserve better.
“It is clear to me that the depth of feeling expressed at the DCA meeting last night (15/1/15) shows that this will be a long, drawn out and protracted process. It’s ironic that the Headteacher,Matthew Milburn talks about the new school becoming a school for the community when the very community that it will impose on will be the one that is destroyed”
Interserve has been selected as the contractor to design and build the new school. They will now progress to the design stage which will start later this month. As part of the design development, Interserve will consult publically prior to submitting a planning application.
It is estimated that the new Saddleworth School could open in Spring 2017.
Copies of the EFA’s feasibility study will be made available on request. Please contact PSBP.EFACAPITAL@education.gsi.gov.uk