PLANS FOR a new £19.2 million Saddleworth School in Diggle have been thrown into chaos after Oldham Council suffered an embarrassing High Court defeat.
Mr Justice Kerr, upholding two of the nine challengers by anti-Diggle school campaigners, ruled the Council’s bid to re-locate from its present Uppermill site was unlawful.
His verdict was a stunning win for the Save Diggle Action Group who campaigned against the council’s proposal to move the school to the former WH Shaw pallet works off Huddersfield Road.
Keith Lucas, spokesperson for SDAG, said: “For all of us on the SDAG Committee and Saddleworth residents supporting our campaign, this is of course an emotional victory.
“We have always felt the planning application process was flawed and that due consideration was never on offer or given proper consideration by the authorities to look carefully at alternative sites.
“This final challenge would have been out of reach without the support of local residents, both morally and financially, and our sincere gratitude to their unwavering support needs to be noted.
“Also I must stress our upmost thanks to our legal team Robert McCracken QC and Alastair Wallace – Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, who have shepherded us through the legal tangle and stress of this campaign.
“The court has said, in our favour, clearly and unequivocally that the planning persmission was unlawful. Accordingly, the court has quashed the decision and the council will now have to look at the matter again.
“We are delighted with the outcome and for once a public concern has been given legal precedence and we have won a small victory for people’s democracy.
“Now we should all work together to urgently achieve a new school on the Uppermill site, which both safeguards our heritage and is best for the whole of Saddleworth.”
Last year, a 3,000-name petition against moving the school to Diggle was handed into Oldham Council along with 650 letters of objections.
But saddened Saddleworth School headmaster, Matthew Milburn, warned: “Another generation of children will miss out through no fault of their own.”
Construction of the new school was originally set to begin in Easter 2014 with the new school set to open in autumn, 2015.
Mr Milburn added: “In a week when Saddleworth School has been designated as a National Support School it is so frustrating that once again the new building has been delayed by a technicality completely outside the control of those who work and learn at the school.
“The Saddleworth team is fantastic. We will of course make the most of what we have and the prestigious designation from the National College of Teaching and Leadership is further evidence of that.
“However, pupils and staff deserve more. They deserve to learn and work in a fit for purpose building.
“I would like to thank parents, the Council, The Education Funding Agency, local partner primary schools and not least the children for their faith, patience and determination to get the new school built.
“We will of course support the Council and I will be pushing to get the job done. I get asked on a daily basis “Sir, will we still be here when the new school opens?” I only wish I could answer with a level of certainty.
“This whole saga has gone on far too long. We need to get the new school built and give the pupils the facilities that they deserve.”
Brian Lord, chair of governors at Saddleworth School, added: “To say that I am disappointed would be an understatement.
“Now yet more pupils are being denied the opportunity to be taught in a building that is fit for purpose. Don’t forget that the new school should have been open now.
“Patching up the old one and having to replace worn out equipment from present funds is putting a huge strain on the school’s budget.
“I hope now that the silent majority will speak out and support the school in trying to get this matter over and done with and the new school built.
“It would appear that right now the EFA are still prepared to fund a new build but if SDAG continue to frustrate the efforts to get planning permission how long will this last?
“We may end up with no secondary school in Saddleworth and how many residents would want that?”
Oldham Council issued a brief statement expressing its disappointment.
Councillor Amanda Chadderton, Cabinet Member for Education and Early Years, said: “We note the judge’s decision and are disappointed.
“Our top priority throughout this lengthy process has always been to deliver a fit-for-purpose educational facility for Saddleworth School.
“We are currently considering our next steps in consultation with our partners on this project, so it would be inappropriate to comment any further at this stage.”
Diggle for Saddleworth School also issued a statement saying:” D4SS would like to express our deep disappointment with the decision made at the recent Judicial Review.
“We are deeply frustrated with the divisive and misguided actions of a small minority of people.
“It has been well-documented that the current school building is no longer fit for purpose, and these further delays are a cause for real concern.
“The staff and children are working in what we know are very difficult conditions, and we would like to take this opportunity to thank the school for their perseverance and positivity in the face of continuing adversity.
“We look forward to hearing how the council and school will move forward on this and help to secure a school building that the children of Saddleworth deserve.”