At Oldham’s full council meeting, on Monday 5th February 2015, Cllr Amanda Chadderton, Oldham’s Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, and all but three councillors voted to reject a petition from 3000 Saddleworth residents asking for the new secondary school to be built in Uppermill. It is the first time a petition from the public has been large enough to trigger a debate at the council.
Independent Cllr for Saddleworth North, Nikki Kirkham, was the only council member to vote against the motion. Unfortunately for residents in Saddleworth South, Cllr Graham Sheldon who is deemed to have pecuniary interests (i.e. a shop in Uppermill) wasn’t allowed to cast his vote as he is currently forbidden, by council rules, from commenting or voting on any issues relating the new Saddleworth School.
Around fifty Saddleworth residents, angry at the council’s decision began heckling the council from the gallery and, following several direct exchanges with Liberal Democrat Cllr John McCann, they stormed, en masse, out of the meeting. Saddleworth resident, Julie Johnson said: “I’m very disappointed and am saddened by their decision. We’ve been ready to help them find a solution since day one but they have never been willing to listen. How can Amanda Chadderton talk about constructive dialogue? To-date, there has not been any consultation with the people of Saddleworth.”
Cllr Buckley’s presentation:
Mr Mayor and Members of the Council, First of all thank you for this opportunity to address the Council this evening on the siting of the new Saddleworth School and to explain the concerns of the overwhelming majority of Saddleworth people.
The new secondary school is warmly welcomed by everyone in Saddleworth; parents, teachers and residents alike. The old school is no longer fit for purpose and a new school presents a wonderful educational opportunity.
However, the proposal to site the new school in Diggle has been met by widespread dismay and incredulity. It’s perhaps the biggest issue that has faced the community for many years. Contrary to stories circulated by the small pro-Diggle lobby, opinion in Saddleworth is not divided. Over 3000 people have signed the petition, most of them unprompted. The on-line petition Change.org stands today at 1332 names. An alternative petition in favour of the move over the last six months has only been able to garner 161 names and no new names have been added for a long time. Several polls in the press reinforce this message and the electorate sent a clear message at the Saddleworth North Council election last May.
The report of the EFA, the Educational Funding Agency, published last week has once and for all squashed the argument that the school cannot be built in Uppermill. All of the four options considered, two of these at Uppermill and two at Diggle, were assessed and the report shows that the same school, with the same educational facilities, can be built at any of the four sites. The costs of the all four options were the same within a few percentage points. The differences well within the margin of error of the estimated costs. At our meeting in November with Mr Mike Green,
Director of Capital at the EFA ,we were told that the EFA would be guided by the Council in deciding the site for the new school. He indicated there was flexibility in the budget, a flexibility of up to £5 million. The extra cost to the EFA of building at Uppermill would be nothing like this amount.
The decision of the school’s location is now firmly in the hands of the Council.
Why do people not want the school to move to Diggle? The list of reasons is long. Diggle is at one extremity of the district, and access is by a single road, effectively a cul de sac. What drives in has to drive out again. This has the effect at doubling up on the traffic issues compared with Uppermill. Traffic is already very heavy into and out of Diggle at peak periods. This road is also the only real pedestrian access to the school from other parts of the district (that is excluding the canal tow-path). There is a single footpath along most of the road and over at least a hundred yards of its length it is very narrow, presenting a serious hazard to pedestrian safety. A row of terraced housing prevents widening the footpath. Apart from the safety concerns, up to 200 students from Uppermill, and beyond who presently walk to school in Uppermill, will no longer be able to do so, because of distance. Extra traffic will be created by parents dropping off and picking up children and many more will now have to travel by bus.
The greatest concern to many of us is the loss of a the precious countryside. Now a rural valley, the views from the popular walk along the canal towpath from Uppermill to Diggle will no longer be of cattle or horses grazing but of playing fields bordered by 12 foot security fences and floodlights. The lapwings and curlews will be gone for ever.
Timescales and costs for building at Diggle and Uppermill are very similar; the educational facilities offered at both locations are essentially the same. The costs of either are acceptable to the EFA.
Choosing Uppermill protects the beauty of Saddleworth and its wildlife and has no detrimental effect on the amenity and quality of life of many of its residents. Hundreds of children will still be able to walk to school in safety and traffic chaos will be avoided.
Oldham Council prides itself on being a listening Council – please listen to the people of Saddleworth and ask the EFA to build the school in Uppermill. It’s not too late to make this decision, the contracter has only just been appointed and the project clock has only just started ticking.
Cllr Amanda Chadderton’s response:
Unfortunately I am unable to accept the recommendations of the petition. The results of the feasibility study, carried out by the EFA, where released last week and the conclusion is that the preferred site is the rear of the WHR Shaw’s Pallett site in Diggle.
This preferred option will provide the largest site of the four options circa 18 acres. It will see dilapidated industrial buildings cleared for the school, a sports hall and ancillary buildings. The greenbelt land will only be used for the provision of sport’s pitches and will be made available for community use.
Oldham Council understands the level of debate this issue has created in Saddleworth and Diggle. We have listened and we will continue to do so. I personally believe that constructive dialogue will be imperative over the coming years.
We know there are issues with regards to the preferred site and we know it will need vital works like carriageway and footpath widening, residents car parking, fencing work and the introduction of a school safety scheme. We are committed too undertaking these works to ensure the successful delivery of the project.
I’d like to highlight a section the community that has been under represented in the debate and that is the children of Saddleworth. It is those students that have the current misfortune to be educated in portacabins and classrooms that are simply not fit for 2015.
Cllr Nikki Kirkham’s question:
The approval of finance by the EFA towards a new school for Saddleworth is most welcome. This is a major investment in Saddleworth and a decision which will affect the lives of many generations in the future.
I am speaking as the ward councillor for Saddleworth North and would like to share the many concerns I hear daily from Saddleworth residents. These fears are assuming the site of Diggle is chosen for the new school
The fears and concerns are:
As echoed by Mr Buckley, the access road through Diggle is a narrow road with a single footpath, this in itself is a serious worry and would surely be unsafe for a large number of pedestrians.
The road junction from the Stanedge road to Huddersfield Road, Diggle has poor visibility for traffic and is a potential accident black spot.
Many children will be unable to walk the extra one mile to Diggle from areas such as Greenfield and Friezland and will need to use public transport, this will incur additional transport costs to their families at around £38.00 per month per child.
The village of Dobcross will face additional traffic as a short cut to Diggle, inevitably this will be a rat run twice daily.
Any large development on the Diggle fields, deemed to be a flood plain, will affect properties in Dobcross, Uppermill and Greenfield. The risk of flooding for these areas will increase.
Uppermill has long been the vibrant centre of Saddleworth. A new school here could provide the educational facility we need to replace a building which is fast becoming ‘not fit for purpose’.
The Uppermill site could be integrated into the village further to provide a hub for many extra activities,
There will inevitably be some distruption but this is normal in these circumstances. Many of the schools in this programe are being built on existing sites.
Mathew Milburn, headteacher, and chair of governers, Brian Lord have previously stated in public that they would manage the distruption on site if it was to stay in Uppermill.
The school debate is massive. The residents I am representing ask for all these major issues I have highlighted to be taken into consideration.
The residents I represent simply want the best for Saddleworth. So I would like to ask the council to support the residents and build the new school on the existing site in Uppermill.
Video link to Oldham’s council meetings online: