CONTROVERSIAL £19 million plans to relocate a new Saddleworth School to Diggle have been derailed by the High Court.
The ruling sends Oldham Council back to the drawing board and is a stunning victory for the Save Diggle Action Group (SDAG).
Oldham Council granted planning consent for the school’s move last year, despite strong objections from SDAG.
Keith Lucas, a Saddleworth Parish Councillor and Diggle resident, took the case to court on behalf of SDAG.
Mr Justice Kerr today handed him victory when he ruled the Council’s decision unlawful.
Mr Lucas, SDAG spokesperson, said no proper consideration had been given to keeping the school on its current site in Uppermill.
The school’s relocation would involve demolition of a listed bridge in Diggle and would affect the setting of a nearby listed office building, he argued.
The council estimated that rebuilding the school in Uppermill would cost more than £20 million, exceeding a £19,259,834 maximum budget.
But the judge said members of the council’s planning committee had “never addressed” the potential harm to heritage assets.
He added: “The case for Uppermill to be preferred on heritage grounds has not yet been considered.
“I conclude that the plainly relevant question that was never addressed by members was whether it was worth incurring the additional financial, educational and construction burdens of keeping the Uppermill site, to avoid the substantial harm to the setting of the heritage asset.”
The court heard the council accepted that redeveloping the school on its existing site, whilst a more expensive option, would be “viable and affordable”.
It also “now acknowledged” that moving the school to a disused industrial site in Diggle “would cause substantial damage to heritage assets”.
But the council, wearing its hat as local education authority, had earlier ruled out any possibility of keeping the school where it is.
As a result, the judge said planning committee members were “positively instructed to put the Uppermill site out of their minds”.
The planning permission was quashed and the council will now have to urgently reconsider the school’s future.