OLDHAM COUNCIL’S planning committee has given the green light for a new £19.2million Saddleworth School to be built in Diggle.
The 14-strong committee unanimously approved applications for the demolition of the existing buildings and listed link bridge at the former WH Shaw pallet works off Huddersfield Road.
This will make way for a new school for 1,500 pupils aged 11-16 and 189 staff to be built by Interserve Construction Ltd after their application was also unanimously approved.
The committee also approved the proposed highways scheme including a parental drop-off facility on Huddersfield Road plus residential car park, with only one vote against the plans.
Around 60 members of the public attended the meeting at the Council Chambers, including Parish Councillors, school governors and residents from various villages.
A total of 1,332 objections, including 1,252 copies of a standard letter, had been sent to the Council with concerns including building on green belt, noise, the school’s design and traffic.
There were 26 letters in support of the new school, with benefits highlighted including long-term future, creation of new jobs and the insufficiency of the current school in Uppermill.
Stephen Irvine, head of planning and infrastructure at Oldham Council, had recommended approval for all four applications after months of research and surveys.
In relation to application A to demolish the existing buildings, he said their demolition would cause “less than substantial harm to the surrounding listed buildings”.
Objector Mark Brooks, chair of Diggle Community Association and a parent of pupils at Saddleworth School, argued the loom works are a significant part of the area’s heritage.
He said: “The Loom Works was a world leader in the manufacture of textile machinery and played a nationally and internationally significant role in Britain’s industrial past.
“A key heritage asset will be surrounded by wholly unsympathetic structures faced with inharmonious materials.”
But Ken Waddington, representing the applicant HNA Architects, insisted: “Most of the original loom works were demolished around 1969.
“The remainder will not provide any understanding of how the original loom works functioned. They will only deteriorate further and are costly to maintain.”
He added the buildings contain health hazards including asbestos roofs and dangerous walls and their demolition could increase viability of future use for the nearby listed building.
Mr Brooks also spoke against the demolition of the listed steel link bridge between the clock tower and the factory building, which will be removed with just a short section to remain and be boarded up.
But Mr Waddington said: “It was a late addition to the building and is not a unique type of construction.”
He added a complete record of the bridge has been carried out and gave assurances the remaining end will be damp-proofed so the historical building won’t be at risk of any damage.
The demolition will clear the way for a new school and associated facilities, including sports pitches, cricket wickets, an orchard, drop-off for buses and parking spaces.
Mr Irvine said the school, which will be in a natural colour and include three distinctive stone sections, is not significantly detrimental to landscape, visual impact or ecology.
He confirmed Sport England have withdrawn their objection over the artificial grass pitch, subject to the pitch fulfilling their design guidance and being available for community use.
He added: “A full risk assessment has been carried out. There is no evidence to support views that building will make flooding downstream worse.”
But Mr Brooks said: “The Planning Officer’s perverse report asserts the numerous harms are ‘outweighed by the benefits it will bring’ – poppycock!
“All these benefits can also be achieved on the Uppermill site, without any of the associated harmful impacts on landscape, ecology, heritage and transport infrastructure.”
But Matthew Milburn, headmaster of Saddleworth School, highlighted the benefits of the new school for the community as well as pupils as he spoke in favour of the application.
“This is going to be so much more than just a building,” he said “It is a huge asset for the community of Saddleworth, not just the children.
“The community has been waiting eight years for a new school. This is the best site and scheme possible so we can provide the best education for generations to come.”
Planning committee member John Hudson, a Saddleworth Parish councillor, commented: “I have been doing this a long time but this is one of the most difficult things I have dealt with.
“I do not remember a time when we have had as many public meetings and going over paperwork to make sure what we are trying to do is best for the children of Saddleworth.”
Finally, the highways application – which had been recommended for refusal by Saddleworth Parish Council – was approved, with only one vote against.
Councillors voted in favour on the condition that the wall on Huddersfield Road be rebuilt in stone, rather than timber as planned, after the footpath is widened.
The plans include a residents’ car park for houses 20-44 and 21-43 on Huddersfield Road, a ‘kiss and drop’ area, traffic signals entering Diggle and wider footpaths to the school site.
Mr Brooks raised concerns about 1,500 pupils using a single narrow road and single footpath twice a day for 40 weeks a year to access the school.
He concluded: “We are fully prepared and very well equipped to continue the fight to oppose this destructive and ill-considered proposal.”
Paul Groves, speaking on behalf of applicant Unity Highways, said: “Our priority is a safe route into school for pupils. But improvements are restricted due to the houses.
“I can not say there has been overwhelming support for the proposals but it is clear to me there is a significant benefit to moving the parked cars off the highway.”
He admitted there will be short periods of high demand at peak times and said additional improvements are desirable, such as school safety zones, but will be subject to separate applications.
Construction of the new Saddleworth School is expected to start in summer, with an opening date of spring 2018.