PARENTS HAVE been warned a judicial review over the siting of a new £19.2 million secondary school could cause further delays and be damaging to children.
In February, Oldham Council planning committee approved plans to build a new school at Diggle, as well as demolish existing buildings and the listed link bridge at the former WH Shaw pallet works.
The plans were reconsidered in March after Oldham Council sought external legal advice following concerns from objectors – and approved for the second time.
Now, Save Diggle Action Group (SDAG), campaigning for the school to remain in Uppermill, are seeking a judicial review against the school planning applications.
Keith Lucas, from SDAG, said: “SDAG is seeking Judicial Review to prevent what would be a catastrophic outcome for Saddleworth.
“We have always said we need a new school; many of our supporters are the parents of children who are, or will be, attending this school.
“We are as angry and frustrated as everyone else that, because of the Council’s intransigence, we are still waiting.
“An alternative site exists, on which a new school could have been built by now: in Uppermill on the playing fields to the rear of the current school site.
“If the school is built in Diggle traffic congestion, dangerous tail-backs on to Standedge Road and a situation where children have to cross in front of traffic entering and leaving a busy drop-off and car-park will be the result.
“SDAG has been forced to take legal action to prevent these damaging, destructive and dangerous proposals.
“We have had to ask for financial support from the community. We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the community but, even more, by their commitment to support our legal battle.”
But Brian Lord, chair of governors at Saddleworth School, says the governors want to make it “crystal clear” to parents how delays could impact on children’s education.
In a letter to parents, Mr Lord, a Saddleworth Parish Councillor, said the school has already incurred a two-year delay because of some community opposition.
But he clarified: “That said, local democracy has worked and, thanks to engagement of local people, the current plans are a significant improvement on those originally drawn up.”
He added: “Governors are pleased with a preferable site, a strong, coherent design and how the two fit together.
“If we proceed now without Judicial Review then the new school should be open for business by September 2018.
“If a Judicial Review is lodged we will face even more delays and yet more Saddleworth children will be denied the benefits that these excellent new facilities can bring.”
He pointed to the Education Funding Agency’s 82-page feasibility report that sets out why the Diggle site was chosen, based on costs, construction, teaching and learning requirements, statutory issues, ecology, and operational issues.
Mr Lord’s letter continues: “No one would deny there are issues regarding accessing the Diggle site. However, the Council is working to mitigate these through, for example, parking spaces for residents, a turning circle and improved footpaths.
“We hardly need to point out to parents that access to the Uppermill site is far from ideal. The footpath at the bottom of the drive is barely wide enough for single-file pedestrian traffic.
It adds: “It is obvious how many great opportunities the new school will bring. We believe the time for arguing is over and further delays due to Judicial Review would be damaging for children.
“The time has come for all of us to speak up and get behind this initiative or risk losing the funding altogether.”
Meanwhile, a new group has been established by local parents and residents who are concerned and frustrated by “the small but vocal group determined to thwart plans for the new Saddleworth School in Diggle.”
Diggle for Saddleworth School (D4SS) was formed in direct response to SDAG’s plans to file for a judicial review.
The group says they are angry at the delays and the claims made by SDAG that they speak on behalf of the entire community.
The group’s objective is not only to voice their concerns and frustrations at the delays caused by opponents to the scheme, but also to provide factual information about why Diggle is the best site for the school.
The new group has established a Facebook page and there is an online petition that people can sign in support of the school move to Diggle.