Campaigners criticise new Saddleworth School process “disgrace” as application must be reconsidered

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.

Saddleworth School sign smallerJust 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.

Keith Lucas, SDAG

“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.

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PLAN: View of the front of the new school

“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.”


6 Replies to “Campaigners criticise new Saddleworth School process “disgrace” as application must be reconsidered”

  1. The majority actually think it should be built in Diggle it spins only this tiny little group that’s trying to ruin it for the rest

  2. Keith Lucas does not speak for the majority of Saddleworth & never has. Most of us want the build to go ahead in Diggle & it’s foolish to think we’re all behind him! I’m disgusted that they’ve caused this delay!

  3. It’s not a tiny group though is it. All the polls and formal objections show that it is those who want the new school in diggle who are in the minority, and by some.

  4. Yet again … More stalling tactics. As a previous SDAG supporter (and one of a growing group) I gave up on the cause when I realised their only tactic was to delay the process. If that is all their campaign is built on then this is yet another nail in the coffin for SDAG. Is meant to walk the route until i realised it was less than 100 people and most of those were not parents but older generations with no direct connection to the existing school.

    Get the school built in Diggle before we start another campaign to stop the buses as the kids get shipped off to Waterhead Academy while Diggle becomes a huge housing estate on the already derelict mill. Anyone for low cost housing and immigrant accommodation in Diggle? No thank you, I’d rather have a school!

  5. Older generations may have grandchildren at or due to attend the school. They may be affected by the siting of the new school because of traffic issues. They have a right to air their views too.

    If the school moves to Diggle, it will set a precedent for building on greenbelt throughout Saddleworth. You will get a school AND housing on the site in Diggle. It won’t be either/or.

    As an important community asset, the new school should be in the best place for the community. Making it out to be a choice of ‘Diggle or no new school’ is disingenous and is an attempt to close down debate by scaremongering.

  6. When the pallet mill closed, who complained about the loss of jobs? Did anyone object to the listed building not being looked after? Has anyone considered the complete eyesore of the dilapidated ruins of said mill, especially when viewed from the back or the front? People complain about the kids walking to Diggle, yet no-one has ever complained about Diggle kids walking to Uppermill. An absolute nonsense and shambles of the NIMBY attitude of a few who are prepared to continue to hold back this development. Next we know they will be introducing lesser crested newts to the marshlands that also contain remnants of Neanderthal man. Watch Grand Designs on TV, learn how they incorporate the old and the new. The only nuisances with schools are ignorant parents who park their cars for around 30 minutes before and after school. Saddleworth school is a decaying, not fit for purpose school with outdated facilities. Opportunity exists, get on with it. Yes I agree some external materials could be more sympathetic to the surroundings, there is enough rubble…stone strewn across the current eyesore (site) that could be reclaimed. A new school could be the boost that Diggle needs to restore its economy.

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