CRIES OF “shame” echoed around the Civic Hall in Uppermill as disappointed locals walked out after Saddleworth Parish Council planning committee recommended approval for a new school in Diggle.
The committee of 11 councillors recommended approval for demolition of the listed link bridge and five buildings – subject to further information from Heritage England.
They also recommended approval for a new £19.2million secondary school for 1,500 pupils at the former WH Shaw pallet works site, along with sports fields, pitches and parking.
But the committee recommended refusal for the application to provide a parental drop-off and residential car parking off Huddersfield Road.
All four applications had been recommended refusal by the Parish Council’s conservation areas advisory committee at their meeting last month.
Cllr Rob Knotts, chair of the planning committee, began the meeting by calling the decision “one of the biggest the Parish Council and community have faced for many years”.
Then members of the public put forward their views on the applications to the councillors and audience of around 40.
Father-of-two Mark Brooks, from Diggle, raised concerns about flooding in the fields next to proposed the school, which are currently earmarked for grass pitches.
“We have had two 100-year events in the last three years as the fields have been flooded,” he said. “There is flooding again at the moment so let’s make that three.”
He added the community should be “custodians of our heritage” and protect the listed link bridge.
Keith Lucas, speaking on behalf of Dr Nicholas Cox from Diggle who could not attend, raised further concerns about losing the “architectural and historical significance” of the buildings.
“Approval of this application signs a death warrant for a well-known and well-loved heritage landmark” he said.
He added there is erroneous analysis of school trips predicting traffic levels, as well as dangerous routes for cyclists.
Then councillors debated each of the four applications in turn, starting with the demolition of the listed link bridge attached to the grade two listed clock tower, which will remain intact.
Oldham Council is still in discussions with Heritage England to determine whether a factory building attached to the listed link bridge is also considered a heritage asset.
Cllr Knotts said: “There are gaps in the information we have and things that still have to be actioned but we have to make a decision on what we have available.”
A vote by the committee saw the demolition of the listed link bridge recommended for approval – subject to further information by Heritage England – by seven votes to four.
The same decision was given to the application to demolish five existing buildings, including the water tower and chimney, as councillors voted 10-1 to recommend approval.
Cllr Neil Allsopp, chair of the Parish Council, said: “Seeing buildings we have got used to come to the end of their working life is sad – but these I believe are some of them.
“They have now ceased to have any function and should make way for new ones.”
But councillors were not in favour of the plans for a parental drop-off area plus residential parking, highlighting safety concerns and lack of staff parking.
Cllr Knotts, who has experience in mathematical modelling and computer simulation, was unimpressed by the plans provided by the applicant.
“It is so hard to understand so how can we make a decision on that?” he said. “There has been no attempt to put it in a pragmatic way for us to understand.”
Cllr Jamie Curley said: “Plans have been drawn up well for drop-off but pick-up is very different. I had children at Saddleworth School and I know what a nightmare it can be.
“The area has been placed so far away from the school. I would like to see that closer to the school which would be much safer.”
Cllr Lesley Brown added: “Diggle Primary already has problems with parents parking and the nursery is going to double in size so it is very important that we reject this.”
Cllr Allsopp suggested: “If we are going to have traffic lights coming into the village then can we make sure they have cameras on to catch the idiots who jump the red lights?”
And Cllr Geoff Bayley raised concerns over the possible impact of extra traffic turning Dobcross into a ‘rat-run’ and about the suggested plans to make the village ‘access only’.
“Delph has road weight limits but they have never been enforced,” he argued. “Police don’t have the time and the council don’t have the authority. Why would Dobcross work better?”
Seven councillors voted to recommend refusal for the application, while four abstained.
But they voted to recommend approval for the new school, which will be built by Interserve on behalf of the Education Funding Agency, with seven councillors for and four against.
Cllr Pam Byrne, a Saddleworth School governor, said: “The colours of the building have been chosen to blend into the background of the natural landscape.
“It would be nice to have it built of stone but it is a matter of cost. A lot of the other schools being built by the EFA have up to £30million – but we don’t.”
Cllr Allsopp added: “This is a school for children for 11 to 16-year-olds, not 50 to 80-year-olds. It needs to be fit for purpose and a new, inspiring place for them to be educated.”
Concerns about flooding, particularly where the grass pitches are proposed to be, were raised but it was pointed out the land will be elevated 2.65m and drainage tanks installed.
But Cllr Brown warned: “A lot of cement, concrete and tarmac is just going to cause flooding further down and problems in Uppermill and Greenfield.”
A decision on the applications will be made by Oldham Council planning committee at a special meeting in the Council Chambers on Thursday, February 25 at 6pm.
Members of the public can attend to observe proceedings and there is no need to book or signal your intention to attend this meeting beforehand.