CAMPAIGNERS HAVE labelled Oldham Council’s process to get a new Saddleworth School a “disgrace” after it was announced the approved planning application must be reconsidered.
A special meeting of the local authority’s cross-party Planning Committee met on February 25 and approved all four applications relating to the new school at the former WH Shaw pallet works site in Diggle.
Just hours before the meeting a letter was received from objectors raising concerns in relation to one of the applications about the effect on the setting of the listed building.
Oldham Council sought external legal advice and has now decided to reconsider the four applications at another special meeting, date to be confirmed.
Councillor Dave Hibbert, Cabinet Member for Housing, Planning and Transport, said: “We consider it important the issues raised just prior to the meeting are considered by the committee.
“As all the applications have previously been dealt with as one matter that means we must reconsider them together to ensure that fair and complete decisions are taken.
“In the light of that – and to avoid the risk of any further unnecessary potential legal challenge and delays – the four related applications will be considered again at an Extraordinary Planning Committee.”
But Keith Lucas, a Save Diggle Action Group (SDAG) committee member, has criticised the process and the local authority’s response to their concerns.
He said: “Oldham Council have had to face up to the fact they acted unlawfully in attempting to drive through a fatally flawed planning application for the new secondary school.
“Cllr Hibbert’s statement neglects to mention SDAG’s legal team’s letter gave OMBC the option to either adjourn the planning committee or defer their decision to give themselves time to consider the “complex legal matters”.
“Instead they decided to go ahead, on the faulty advice of their legal department who could, they claimed, see no legal difficulties with Planning Officer’s report.
“SDAG have tried again and again to hold OMBC to account for their inept and autocratic actions in seeking to impose this ill-considered scheme.
“Surely the Council should now see sense and acknowledge the school can be built if they agree to build it where the majority feel it should be: in Uppermill.
“Why persist with a flawed proposal that threatens our landscape, heritage and the safety of children?”
He added: “Supporters of our case, who are prepared to fight all the way, have been pledging money to support our legal action.
“We will continue to challenge and fight OMBC because their plan is destructive, incompetent and dangerous.
“They need to stop and rethink – not just for Diggle and its environs but the benefit of all of Saddleworth’s children.”
Councillor Garth Harkness, Liberal Democrat spokesman for education on Oldham Council, expressed his dismay the local authority has “messed up” the planning application.
He said: “The way Oldham Council have handled the process of getting a new school for Saddleworth has been a disgrace.
“I have attended many meetings with the Education Funding Agency and Oldham Council to push for the best deal and relayed my frustrations in private at the appalling mismanagement of the process.
“The majority of residents want a new school without further delay, so it is right I support them but Oldham Council need to do things properly and get this sorted now.
“Otherwise, the losers are the students who should be in a new building by now, instead of one which is getting to the point where it may not be safe much longer for them to remain.
Cllr Harkness promised: “I will keep working with Oldham Council to ensure that concerns are addressed, the highways are monitored and we still get our new Saddleworth School.”
Cllr Alan Belmore, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Saddleworth Parish Council, said: “After years of debate, we are all now left with a straight choice:a new Saddleworth Secondary School in Diggle or face the real risk of the existing school buildings in Uppermill closing due to their bad condition.
“If the school closes, our children face being bussed to failing or inadequate schools in Oldham.
“I understand why many people wanted the new school in Uppermill but the Government would not fund it.
“Saddleworth School provides a really good education in difficult conditions. I am now asking local people to support the new school and provide the best education facilities and opportunities for our children.”
Independent Saddleworth Parish Councillor Rob Knotts said: “Major concerns have been consistently raised by those questioning the need for the school built to built in Diggle.
“Moreover, Historic England also raised legal issues affecting the listed buildings to have them dismissed by OMBC.
“It is worrying with all the expertise available in OMBC and the combined effort of the council and developers, the planning application still has question marks hanging over it.
“That prompts the question as to what else is deficient: possibly the traffic plan?
“If the planning application has to be redressed, as chairman of the Parish Council’s Planning Committee, I ask in the interests of total openness and full transparency that the application is first presented as is customary to the Parish Council.”
Nicola Kirkham, OMBC and Saddleworth independent parish councillor, added: “The SDAG team have proven once again the way the decision making process is done at OMBC does not seem to reflect public opinion.
“It would seem OMBC did act unlawfully within the planning process.”