THE HUNT for a new site for Saddleworth’s only secondary school has unleashed both excitement and concern as the community battles to secure the best education for its children.
Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council is working to secure land for a new school, which will then be funded by the Department of Education’s Priority School Building programme.
And Saddleworth School headteacher Matthew Milburn admitted it is a much-needed project to bring the school into the 21st century for its 1,350 pupils.
“We are looking forward to getting improved facilities for the children we serve,” he said.
“The problem with this site as is well known is that it is very cramped and the buildings have been put together over the years.
“As far as I am aware, work will start in the second quarter of 2015 but if the council can secure the land quickly the project could be brought forward.
“My understanding is that the Education Funding Agency (EFA) are not considering doing anything on the current site.”
Most of the buildings at Saddleworth School’s current site in Uppermill were built over a century ago, with the latest additions added 50 years ago.
Chairman of the school’s governors Brian Lord said it is crucial a suitable site is found and a new school is created to give pupils the best facilities and education they can.
“If we do not get a new school then we have condemned our children to studying in a 100-year-old building, with 100-year-old facilities,” he said.
“It is not practical to revamp the current site we have got so a new one is the only option. Some of the buildings put up recently for schools are fantastic and we do not want to miss out that.”
After suggestions there is a deadline of just over a month to find a suitable site or lose the funding, OMBC reassured residents this is not the case.
Councillor Hugh McDonald, Cabinet Member for Education and Safeguarding, said: “It’s important that we make it crystal clear there is no immediate deadline looming in regard to securing a site.”
“Oldham Council is still looking at all the viable site options. Once this is done we will be in a position to discuss this closely with the school, other local partners and the public.
“We’re totally committed to securing a new Saddleworth School as quickly as possible.”
One site named as a viable solution is the old pallet works at Huddersfield Road, Diggle – but Parish councillors and residents are divided over a move to the green field site.
Cllr Mike Buckley said: “The Diggle site is not easily accessible and is already problematic for vehicles so would be nightmare at peak periods.
“The land adjacent is good quality agricultural land which will be lost to the school for playing fields, destroying the historic landscape and rural character of the area.
“But I understand a school is much-needed and hope all these points will be considered when the new site is chosen.”
Cllr Graham Sheldon added: “A new school on that site would destroy Diggle. The current site is located centrally with good access to bus services and the village. The school should remain in Uppermill.”
And Cllr Neil Allsopp said: “There is no ideal solution. The present site is impractical, but the site at Diggle is too small. I think we have to accept the site at Diggle is the best we are going to get.”
Diggle Community Association welcomed plans for a brand new school but called for any developments to be considered carefully.
“We would like to see our children given a first class education in a first class school. The new school should be sited and built with this in mind,” they said.
“Well-considered plans, an appropriate site and a well-constructed school are the best investments we can make for the future of education in Saddleworth.”
Parish Councillors agreed to write to OMBC and Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove to offer their knowledge of their area to help find an appropriate site, and meet to discuss plans.
An open meeting will be held in Diggle where residents to ask Cllr Hugh McDonald about plans for the school. A date and time is to be confirmed so please contact Mike Buckley for details: 01457 820015.