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Letter to the Editor

By Mike Buckley

The Oldham Council statement is pure propaganda in favour of relocating the school in Diggle and like previous similar statements by the Council it is short on fact but high on rhetoric.

In support of the move, the statement continues the Council policy of abandoning objectivity in preference to peddling information intended to mislead.  I would like to correct just a few of the misleading statements.

The school is being partly built on the green belt land in Diggle, the two storey sports hall is entirely on the green belt, as are the playing fields and fences.  No clever words can get round this fact.  Both are classed as development in planning terms and, contrary to the statement, the status of the green belt land will change as it will no longer be classified as a greenfield site.

The so called technical committee, largely composed of individuals with no technical qualifications, being self selected and accountable to no-one, is not representative of the community.  The decision of the group to abandon the proposals to build the school in Uppermill in favour of Diggle, was far from unanimous, many members objecting on having to make a decision in the absence of either any meaningful financial or technical information on the two options.

The rejection of the recent proposals to build the school in Uppermill was also made in the absence of any rigorous assessment. No-one, including the technical committee, has seen the results of the so called evaluation of the scheme that took place.  The claims about inaccurate costings cannot be substantiated without the evidence on which these statements were made.

The lack of technical and financial information on both proposals brings into question the rigour and objectivity with which the decision to move to Diggle has been made.  The Council seem to be under the impression that the people of Saddleworth do not need this information and will instead trust the Council to make the right decision.  Many of us do want to see the facts and the basis for this unpopular move.

Uppermost in the Council’s decision is undoubtedly the land swap deal, exchanging the existing Uppermill site for the green fields of Diggle.  The Uppermill site is prime development land that would fetch a high price on the open market.  The Diggle site is 75% green belt, land that could not be used for housing or industry and would command a much lower premium on the open market.  How much are the council making out of the deal?  They have refused to give any indication of the numbers involved.  I am amazed that they are close to signing, surely they should first wait for planning permission to build on the Diggle site – by no means a certainty in view of the number of both national and local planning polices with which the proposals will conflict.  The planning application has not yet even been submitted.

I continue to be very disappointed at the secretive way in which this project is being handled by the council.  It is probably the most significant development proposal affecting Saddleworth for decades. Councillor McMahon at the public meeting in October promised consultation before the planning stage.  Where is it?  The Council instead continues its policy of withholding information and making decisions behind closed doors.  Instead of information they fall back on telling everyone in Saddleworth what is good for them.  The people of Saddleworth deserve more respect than this torrent of whitewash and propaganda.

The views and comments expressed in letters to the editor do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the editor. Letters may be edited.

11 comments to Letter to the Editor

  • Keith Lucas

    Over and over again OMBC spin the story. The latest press statement from Amanda Chadderton states that the proposed school is not being built on greenbelt land. Adding “The Diggle site is designated for industrial use. Green Belt land would only be used in this scheme for sports facilities and ancillary buildings, which does not alter its current status at all. That green belt land she forgets to add is proportionally the largest part of the proposed plan and will have on it a sports centre and floodlight all weather sports pitches totally altering the environmental and ecological status of the land. Also that greenbelt land behind Huddersfield Road will be used for car park spaces. Just need to get a bit of honest clarity from our elected councillors and council.
    As for the claim that alternative plans were rejected because of costs. 1 Thats not true – there was never time for costs to be correctly audited for the alternative plan. 2: Where are OMBC costs? and how can we guarantee full disclosure of all the school build and infrastructure costs for the Diggle plan? Through our MP Debbie Abrahams we have requested directly to Cllr Leader Jim McMahon to release official documentation that would help residents and SDAG present their case in a fairer and equitable light. We have not even been given the grace of a response from any official in OMBC.
    This issue won’t go away by spin and half truths day by day more and more people are realising that there is an alternative to the school being built in Diggle. Its just there isn’t the political will to accept that.

  • Melanie Koen

    Well said Mike and Keith. It’s the lack of consultation and the lack of providing traffic, flood and other surveys that concerns me. If the Uppermill site has been ruled out we are entitled to see the documents and the reasons for this…or is it just because of the land swop deal? Plus I was told personally we would be entitled to these reports and nothing has materialised. It would be interesting to see how much the land is actually worth and if anyone at OMBC has realized that they probably are not getting the best deal….surely that must have been looked into? We call ourselves a democratic society! The biggest building project Saddleworth has seen for over 50 years and the local politicians don’t listen to their democrats. It is the children I feel for and the fact that this decision is not about them at all…and what is that teaching future generations?

  • Save Saddleworth School

    Face facts! If you want a school it has to be Diggle. Do you want a school? I would have thought this would be the end of the opposition and people may start to support the new school. The people who fund the school- the government agency have said the only site that can be used out of all the options is Diggle. You might not agree but they are paying for it. It is clear Mr Buckley does not care if we get a new school or not. This just now seems to be a NIMBYS.view. Well if you manage to stop it now then there is no school. I hope you will enjoy the nice big factory in Diggle and the rest of us will have to find other places for our kids to go to school because it won’t be in Saddleworth. The new Pheonix school maybe?

  • G Harris

    In response to the comment above, I would not agree that the growing opposition to the site in Diggle is a NIMBY’s view. I have spoken to many people from around Saddleworth, some parents of school age kids and some not, but the thing they all seem to have in common is the view that Diggle is not a good location for a large secondary school. Some chose to live where they do to because of the proximity to the school and the fact that their kids could walk there safely but this will no longer be possible for many pupils. I can honestly say that out of all the people I have listened to about this issue, only two have been supportive of the move and they were from Diggle! But does this matter to those making the decisions? It wouldn’t appear so.

  • Melanie Koen

    I think your missing the point here, can I ask why you are so keen that the school should be built in Diggle. It has been proven that the school can be built on the existing site. Diggle is a village. What is going to happen to Uppermill if the school is built in Diggle. Uppermill is the heart of a saddleworth , are you happy for their economy to suffer?

  • Dave

    The accusation of NIMBYism is entirely justified.

    The issue of what to do about the structural deterioration of Saddleworth School has been around for many many years. And people have been applying for funding to rebuild/relocate it for many years. Saddleworth needs a fit-for-purpose Secondary School. Some people have worked very hard for a long time to get the money to build it, and now we have it, and the people offering the money say we’re getting it on the condition of building the school on a particular site.

    I suggest that if, as a local councillor, you want to actively campaign, at this stage, against building on the preferred site of the people offering the money, then you had better have a track record of consistently trying to make a positive contribution to solving the problem of what to do about Saddleworth School, from the beginning. It’s Saddleworth’s Secondary School, it’s not a plan that’s come out of nowhere to build a new supermarket or some such.

    Mr Buckley considers this to be “probably the most significant development proposal affecting Saddleworth for decades”. Can he say what contribution he has made, over these years, to the ongoing campaign for Saddleworth to get a fit-for-purpose Secondary School? Can he say what he has done, along the way, to highlight the importance, and viability, of building on the existing site? He must have known that a decision to build on the Diggle site was a possibility, as that idea has been around for a long time.

  • Samantha Marshall

    Dave – Sorry but the EFA, who are the ones giving us the money, DO NOT choose the site.

    David Laws MP, Minister for Schools, has written personally to a resident stressing the fact that it is OMBC that decides on the site, NOT the EFA. The EFA could build on the existing site, but it is OMBC that are pushing for it to be in Diggle. They will give us the money either way.

    From the very beginning we have been misled by OMBC that it has been the EFA’s decision to build in Diggle, when in fact we find that it is the other way around.

    How can we trust anything that OMBC say to us after this?

  • Cllr Rob Knotts

    Accusations have recently made in the Oldham Chronicle to the effect that Saddleworth Parish Independent Councillors do not want a new Saddleworth School. The accusations are politically inspired in an attempt to discredit independently minded representatives and are a gross distortion of the truth. We emphatically reject such accusations.
     
    Residents are annoyed and frustrated that OMBC made a decision on the location of the new school without consultation with parents, pupils or the public. A public discussion was promised but only after the school’s location had been decided. Thus consultation was perceived to be purely a decorative feature and would not in any way be allowed to influence decision making. Such is the sad evolution of the modern democratic process within this borough. Moreover, at public meetings held last autumn in Saddleworth’s Civic Hall OMBC’s leaders promised consultations well before the planning applications were submitted. Currently such consultations have yet to be initiated.
     
    Many residents also need convincing that the existing school cannot be further developed and modernised thus removing the need to move. Sadly the lack of transparency surrounding the issues has fuelled dissatisfaction with the way the future of a Saddleworth School has been addressed by OMBC. The public merits being informed as to the comparative costs between redeveloping the site on its existing location and building a new one at Diggle; basically like with like comparisons of costs need to be transparent and should also be shown to have been a part of the decision making process.
     
    Access to the selected site in Diggle is limited to one narrow road feeding off the A670 followed by a 90 degree turn into an equally narrow road to reach the site. Access arrangements to the Diggle site are a concern considering the volume of traffic entering and leaving the school.  Safety together with the impact of noise and fumes on the environment are issues of concern to residents in Diggle and Dobcross; Dobcross will be undoubtedly be used as a short cut in journeys to and from the school in Diggle.
     
    One would have expected the road safety issue to form one of the parameters used in selecting a suitable site. However, OMBC initially stated that the studies of the safety issues were not the council’s responsibility; subsequently it is understood that the studies will now form part of the planning work. The work should have been undertaken as part of the decision making process not included as an afterthought. Thus on these grounds alone the selection process of the Diggle site is considered to be seriously flawed.
     
    Saddleworth’s independent councillors very much support a new school in Saddleworth. In addition, they seek objectivity and total transparency in the associated decision making process.

  • Cllr Brian Lord

    Firstly let me say that I have never had a problem as to where the school was to be built. All I want is a decent facility, where our children can work, which is not a 100 years old and sadly no longer suitable for today’s type of education and which doesn’t cost a lot of money to sustain.

    I believe that many people still believe the misinformation and doubtful financial figures being put about by the Save Diggle Action Group (SDAG) and Cllr Mike Buckley.

    I would like to take this opportunity to answer many of their objections and suggestions.

    There are three bodies involved in the Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP) for the new school: The EFA, OMBC and the school. However the former two are the main players with the school acting as an advisory body.

    I strongly believe that residents should know the exact reasons why it is not possible to build on the existing Uppermill site. I will try to outline the main ones.

    Firstly the land on which the SDAG plan shows the new school to be built is what is called ‘made land’ i.e. it is not the original surface. In this case it is the spoil from earlier development of the site or elsewhere. Thus it is highly likely that the new building would have to be ‘piled’ – at very considerable cost – not allowed for in the SDAG figures.

    The proposed road leading up to the new school building would also need to be piled to prevent it slipping into the adjoining Pickhill Brook – again not allowed for in the SDAG figures.

    Because the school would be built on reclaimed land it is also extremely likely that the land and foundations would have to be protected against gas emissions, with methane barriers etc. – again not allowed for in the SDAG scheme.

    The SDAG scheme suggests the removal of a classroom block – originally stated as 6 classrooms but it isn’t – it is 10 classrooms, plus toilets and offices. Worse still, the majority are specialist Art and Technology rooms – far larger than general classrooms. The existing rooms contain cookers, sinks and specialist benching.

    The scheme suggests putting temporary classrooms on the site of the existing Multi Use Games Area (Muga) and grassed area alongside the linear path. Both areas are used daily for PE lessons. If this were the case we would be short of places to teach PE. The costs of large ‘prefabs’ would be much greater than the SDAG suggestion. In addition they would need a significant power supply as two rooms are for Food Technology and have ovens, washers, fridges etc. and as the school supply is already overloaded, and given the building site would also need power, there would need to be a separate supply going back to the nearest substation. Again costs not accounted for in the SDAG scheme.

    It is also suggested that significant savings could be made by retaining the existing sports hall. Again this would be far from ideal as the building needs considerable money spending on it as it leaks – not only from above but also from below. It would also stick out into the suggested playing field!

    Whilst any building work was underway the school drive would have to serve both the builders and pupils – clearly a very challenging and dangerous situation to manage. One way to combat this would be to construct a second access– again at considerable cost not accounted for in the SDAG scheme.

    As the Uppermill site is worth more than that at Diggle the Authority would receive the cash difference – money that it has guaranteed to spend on the new school and a sum which would not be available if the original site was to be used.

    There are other minor matters but it is clear from the above that financially it is not possible to use the Uppermill site given the modest budget available. One final point concerns the time window within which the new school would have to be completed. It is estimated by the EFA that it would take an extra 8 months to do the building in Uppermill which would mean that it could not be completed in the required time scale.

    With regard to the potential problems relating to the Diggle site. Firstly the Council have made it clear the Diggle site is 18% bigger than the Uppermill one.

    The first concern which people have is the fact that at present the parked cars and the ‘pinch’ point at the start of Huddersfield Road cause problems for people trying to get in and out of the Village. This could be very simply cured by stopping cars parking on the Road (but also providing a car park behind the houses for displaced cars) and by widening the road at the pinch point and this is exactly what the Council are proposing.

    Secondly people fear the problems caused by parents dropping off their children at the entrance to the school (already a major concern at the present site). This will be dealt with by means of a ‘school safety zone’ where stopping is forbidden and could be enforced by the camera car.

    The current control option shows all buses will load and unload on the school site and parents will be able to drive in and drop off their children thus leaving the main road free of obstructions.

    The school has a technical group working to provide the best possible outcome both visually and educationally. This is made up mainly of local people who have volunteered to be part of the group and who have not been “handpicked” as stated by SDAG. The group have education, the children and the village as a main concern and many have experience of working in construction or design. Already they have managed to persuade the EFA to have a two story building facing the main road rather than a three storey and will continue to work for the best possible outcome.

    I understand the reasons behind SDAG wishing to block the application and I have no problem in them stating their case but they must tell the truth and not blow problems out of proportion and accept that their scheme to build in Uppermill is not viable.

    If SDAG manage to hold up the planning process we will inevitably lose our chance of having a new school – one which may never come again in the foreseeable future and this would be a disaster for the area. Should the present school have to close because the building is judged to be inadequate or unsafe, our children would have to travel to other parts of Oldham and beyond for their education. Is this what SDAG really want?

  • Saddleworth Voice

    Brian, were you once ‘Darth Vader’ in a previous life?

    Big chunk of candour in this Brian, and I’m sure you know it.

    I thought Councillors are elected to the local council to represent their local community?

    In fact Saddleworth Parish Council voted to “support Saddleworth residents in their campaign to oppose the building of the new school on the Diggle site” – You are a member of the Parish Council Brian?

    Over 70% of residents in a recent Saddleworth News poll said ‘no’ to Diggle.

    A fantastic school can be built on the existing site – which is what many, many people and Saddleworth Parish Council want – So why don’t you fight for what is right, support your local community (and school) and get the best, non compromise solution for Saddleworth?

  • Dave

    Samantha Marshall – It is not true to say EFA will Saddleworth the money either way. The letter from David Laws actually says that EFA “are not responsible for sourcing of land and the location of school buildings”. What’s meant by this is that it’s the council’s responsibility to find an appropriate site. It doesn’t mean that EFA have no say in where the school is built – they can, for example, very well say to the Council, “it is not practical/possible within the budget to build on the site you have found”. In the case of Saddleworth the Council claim that EFA say the Uppermill site isn’t suitable. So it’s up to the Council to find a better site, and they’ve chosen Diggle.

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