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Public anger grows following Saddleworth Parish Council’s U-turn

saddleworth parish

Greenfield and Greenbelt site at Shaw’s Pallet Works, Diggle (Photo: Paul Marsh)

Boos  and cries of Lib-Dem shame rang out from the public gallery at last night’s Parish Council meeting as members voted to support the proposed building of a new school in Diggle.

On the 28th October 2013, the council had resolved to support Saddleworth residents in their campaign for the new school to be built on the existing site in Uppermill and to oppose the building of the new school on the Diggle site. The amendment introduced, by Cllr Cullen, last night and voted through with a small majority, reversed this.

The large turnout of over seventy Saddleworth residents forced the meeting to be moved from its regular room into the larger main hall at Uppermill Civic Centre.  At the start to the meeting, the public asked a number of questions ranging from: What is the Parish Council doing to honor its commitment to the protection of greenbelt in Saddleworth? Will they be asking for a full cost break down? What have they done since they voted against building in Diggle? What are the suggested road improvements in Diggle and how will they be accomplished? Will the new school be sympathetic to the Saddleworth environment? Is it reasonable to view this build as the ‘least worst option’? What are the majority views of the children and parents? How will downstream areas be protected from flooding?

Before the council discussed item 18 on the agenda, the motion proposed by Councillor Cullen:

‘The Parish Council, now knowing that it is not possible to build the new school on the Uppermill site, agree to do all they can to support the building of a new school on the Diggle site. This being the only available alternative. ‘

The chair of the Parish Council, Cllr Graham Sheldon, stepped down, to cries of dismay from the public gallery, stating that he could not chair this item following advice he had received from the borough solicitor. On leaving the room he said that, “My own interests are at the bottom of my priority list.” Cllr Firth took responsibility for the chair.

In response to the motion Cllr Buckley said, “It has never been stated that the school can’t be built in Uppermill. How is it possible to make decisions without costings and details? It is crucial that OMBC release detailed information backing their decisions.”

Cllr Knotts said, “There is a total lack of transparency. How can we make decisions without like for like comparisons. Major decisions, such as traffic management, should not be left to contractors.”

Cllr Lord said the Uppermill site was assessed in 2009 and was judged to unsuitable.

Cllr Harkness said, “It’s a choice, the Diggle site or no site”.

Cllr Allsop reminded everyone that, “The Parish Council has no authority over OMBC and we can’t instruct them to do anything.”

Although there were denials regarding the influence of party politics, there was a clear split in the Council with the majority of Lib-dems supporting the Diggle build and the majority of Independents opposing it. The Lib-Dems clearly believe that losing the Diggle site will result in there being no new school in Saddleworth. The Independents, on the other hand, can’t see why the Uppermill site can’t be seriously considered and a fair, informed comparison be made.

Compromise is clearly the order of the day. I just hope, for the sake of Saddleworth and its children, it’s not a compromise too far.

27 comments to Public anger grows following Saddleworth Parish Council’s U-turn

  • BIlly

    Except for a few myopic diehards we are now about to witness the total demise of the Lib Dems locally. They have lost credibility in the eyes of the community, a shame as they seemed a viable alternative – but no more. Clearly they no longer listen to residents and simply follow ‘group advice’ on how to vote.

  • Alex

    At last we see signs the Lib Dems are prepared to support Saddleworth Students, well done for showing leadership, unlike the the rent a crowd who attempted to high jack the council meeting.
    These people need to realise the decision on the new school will be taken in the Civic Centre in the Town Centre, perhaps Mike Buckley might like to organise a protest at the next Borough Council meeting.

  • Barros

    This realy silly we have one group who will not listen to any thing other than their desire not to have a school built in Diggle, for a parish council to change its original stance on this issue convinces me that they are right a pa rish council can only make recommendations which can be over ruled by the council planing committee(something cllr Buckley is well aware off) If a Full breakdown was required then it could have been request under FOI weeks ago which could have been asked for by any member of the public but it was not?. Given the boroughs tight finances then you can be sure that housing will be placed on the remaining site this would cause more traffic problems than any school and it would be 24/7 Its clear the action group don’t value education in a modern facility. Please stop this stupidity now befor it’s to late

  • Ann

    I agree with Billy. I live in Diggle & they have lost our vote & the votes of many I’ve spoken to. Their leaflet campaign in which they told us we would benefit because our property prices would increase & there would be jobs at the school is laughable & quite frankly an insult to our intelligence. Not to mention trying to cover up the fact that they want to build on Green Belt land & make it out that it will be built on the pallet works site rather than the grazed fields (to make it more ‘palletable’ for people). Whether people agree with the school being built in Diggle or not, they have failed to consult residents of Saddleworth, they have ignored our views & concerns & just ploughed on with this in an undemocratic way. They cannot treat people like this and expect to get away with it.

  • David Melling

    The SDAG’s tiresome tubthumping will do Saddleworth no favours, mind my words. The don’t REALLY care about flooding or transport or education, this small group of vocal aggressors will do ANYTHING to stop their view changing from green fields to a nice new school.

    I really believe their narrow-minded selfish and thoughtless campaign will rob Saddleworth of its secondary school and when it does, I hope they’ll be happy.

  • John Calvin-Thomas

    Anyone supporting the school build at Diggle should be aware that it is not only a school that we will get. As part of the land swap Oldham council have already agreed to the building of new houses, not only in Uppermill but also in Diggle. Nothing has been mentioned about the logistics of the new housing estate

  • John Calvin-Thomas

    Oldham council need the new housing for council tax to close their funding gap. Saddleworth green belt is being used by Oldham wholly for financial reasons. Oldham council don’t care about Saddleworth’s architecture or culture we are just a source of income. Saddleworth PC should be doing everything in its power to protect our villages

  • Nick

    As a member of SDAG, a parent of children who will be attending the Saddleworth Secondary school and a resident of Diggle (presumably therefore a member of ‘rent-a-crowd’) I’d like to respond to some of the misleading statements that have been posted in connection with this article.

    Since October SDAG has made repeated requests to OMBC to release the survey information they hold concerning the Diggle site (and, indeed the Uppermill site), all of which have been ignored. In any case, the fundamental problem is that the Council is making its decisions on the basis of a survey of both the Diggle and Uppermill sites made in 2009 in completely different circumstances. At that point the proposed school at Diggle was to be built at the rear of the Pallet Works site. The plans at this stage also envisaged a new access route to the Diggle site which would take traffic away from Huddersfield Road. The new plans for the Diggle site are for a completely different development, in a completely different location with completely different access issues.

    The two concerns which the surveyors had about the Uppermill site related to problems of access and the disruption caused by building on the existing school site. The new proposals to develop the site at Uppermill presented by a local architect and construction expert with experience of the BSF programme address both of these concerns as they involve the construction of a new access road to the Uppermill site and the screening of the current school site while construction takes place.

    What SDAG want is for a proper comparison of the relative costs of these two new schemes to be undertaken so that we can be reassured that the reasons OMBC have given for its preference for the Diggle site can be properly scrutinised. This isn’t just in the interests of Diggle residents, it’s in the interests of all Saddleworth residents and the parents of children of the proposed school, who should be in a position to judge accurately what the real situation is. At the moment the Council are relying on an out of date survey produced for designs for completely different school proposals. Unless they have undertaken new surveys and are not willing to disclose the results, for whatever reason.

    As for the issue of housing, most of the site the Council are seeking to purchase for the school at Diggle is on the green belt and therefore cannot be developed for housing. It is an outrage that the Council sees fit to develop it for any purpose but even they would be constrained by national planning policies when it comes to housing. The other site, the field in front of the Pallet works, is currently zoned for industrial use in the Local Plan. In order for housing to be built there a developer would need to get the land re-designated and would then have to go through the planning process to get permission. Those who oppose the relocation of the school to Diggle would oppose any such proposals just as strongly. The statement that, were it to be built, housing would generate more traffic problems is surely questionable. Since relocating the school to Diggle will mean that those children from Greenfield, Grasscroft and parts of Uppermill who now walk to school will not be able to do so, road traffic related to the school will increase from current levels at the Uppermill site. Those children who continue to walk to school (this will include my own) will have to walk on narrow or non-existent pavements while cars, buses and the delivery vehicles to the Shaw’s site, which will share the main access to the school, thunder past.

    As it has acknowledged, the key reason why the Council favours the Diggle site is because it will receive what it clearly perceives will be considerable extra revenue from a land swap with the current owners of the land in Diggle. The current owners of the Shaw’s site would acquire a prime housing development site in Uppermill which they could never otherwise have obtained and the council will gain an undisclosed sum in excess of a million pounds. It claims that it will use the extra revenue it obtains from this ‘arrangement’ to resolve any issues that may arise from development at the Diggle site but, since all issues concerned with the Diggle site have been left for the contractor delivering the development to resolve, it seems OMBC currently have little or no idea what kind of additional costs might be involved. The historic name of the area where the school will be situated ‘Marslands’ (marshlands) might alert them to one issue. The costs of making a flood plain suitable for playing fields and a sports hall will be considerable, as will the challenge of dealing with the vastly increased flood-risk further down the valley generated by effectively concreting over extensive parts of the flood-plain. The whole site is vulnerable to flooding from the canal. Do the council have proposals for dealing with this? We don’t know, not because we haven’t been asking but because NO ONE WILL TELL US WHAT THEY KNOW.

    Lastly, some comments in recent posts are clearly designed to suggest that SDAG is a small group of people whose objection to the school is based on the fact that their outlook will be affected by the new school. The view from my house will not be affected by the building of the school in Diggle. However, I share with those (currently over 1,000 and counting) who oppose the relocation of the school to Diggle, the view that the valley and village I share with my community will be devastated if this proposal goes ahead. I don’t agree that it is ‘narrow minded’ or ‘selfish’ to want to defend the greenbelt and to seek to prevent the desecration of the Saddleworth landscape, or to want to avoid seeing my children and the children of others put at risk for the sake of very large sums of money going into the coffers of OMBC and local property developers.

  • Alex

    The only un democratic thing about this Ann is the leader of your action group, Mike Buckley was democratically elected through the ballot box as a Lib Dem and because he didn’t get his own way on this issue, he slung his toys out of the pram.
    He should step up resign his seat and seek re-election as a anti Saddleworth young people independant.
    That’s the democratic and honourable thing to do

  • Saddleworth Voice

    David Melling

    I believe that SDAG really DO care. The evidence is all around you – Have a look at their website: savediggle.org.uk for starters.

    It’s informed and reasoned. I get the distinct feeling that they are sticking up for Saddleworth and its families. There seems to be a minority of people however who ‘may’ be typified by your approach who appear on local website comments boards and contribute very little to the debate. Perhaps a more transparent approach by all would allow us to further this debate rather than it degenerating into a ‘You v Them’ game of trumps.

  • Mel Koen

    Unlike most of OMBC, councillors and the Parish council I do not care about the party politics. I wish the decision of the new location of the school to be fair and like for like. Anyone without an emotional attachment can see that a fair comparison of each site can only be done when all the costs have been looked at fairly and by professionals, not he said this and she said that. I have certainly been in discussions where these documents and surveys are not available. Or am told that it was from a survey done in 2008…that was over 6 years ago now! Also the full traffic surveys. No one seems to care about the road into Diggle and the fact that children will have to walk along the road from the proposed bus turnaround at the Navigation. There are no plans of footpaths, as OMBC can not acquire this part of the land to do this, therefore children will be walking all the way down Huddersfield Road. Now I know uppermill is not much better, but it does have pavement on both sides…and the biggest point here is the school can be accessed via various entry points by foot, so has many other options. If I were a parent of a child who was in secondary school at the moment that is what I would be pushing for….a full and fair traffic survey and what exactly are OMBC proposing for Huddersfield Road. By removing parked cars and adding double yellow lines will only increase the speed of motorists…and this is something that infuriates me as a response from OMBC. It is just not good enough.

  • Cris Miles

    It is clear that a school could be built on the present site…. at a cost.
    It is clear that a school can be built in Diggle at a cost.
    Sadly it seems that none of the costings have been made transparent, and it would seem that no costings for a school in Diggle include what will be substantial changes to the road structure (and or housing?) at the approach to Diggle. I have no vested interest in either option,other than a general desire to preserve the identity of the area and of the villages, however I feel distinctly queasy about the manner in which this process has been managed. There doesn’t appear to be any will to illuminate what are murky waters. What is the developer paying for the prime location that is the current school site (estimated value £8m)? Is that the real reason OMBC want to hammer through this project?
    The risk in eliminating a flood plain should not be ignored, particularly for those in Kenworthy Gardens, on occasions the river has already been perilously close to bursting it’s banks here.

  • Gillian

    I am disappointed and disgusted by the lack of respect shown to the people of Diggle. We care about our new Saddleworth School, the whole of Saddleworth, our village and the children who will attend the new school, but who cares about our safety and the safety of the school children?Diggle village already has a Primary School and a Nursery and to add a school with 1,500 students plus staff, who will all arrive and depart at a similar time each day will mean an excessive amount of traffic for the size of the village. Add to that the heavier vehicles visiting Warth Mill and Shaws, will mean that the traffic going into and out of the village through the only main access road, will more than double and is potential for heavy congestion if not gridlock. A complete independent traffic survey is essential and to suggest that this survey will be completed after the decision to move the school to Diggle has been made, is incomprehensible. This could be seen as planning for accidents to happen.

  • G Harris

    I completely agree with the comments of Chris Miles above. Oldham Council’s attempt to manage this process are making it appear as though there is something to hide. People have genuine concerns about the proposed site and more and more questions are now being asked about costings and specifically how the new site’s costs can be compared to the existing site when the full costs of both have not been calculated.

  • Sandy

    I think the OMBC are realising the volume of dissent and worried.What a shame about the Parish or should I say Perish Council .Now proven to have no credibility.
    As for the Lib Dems, I voted for them from the days when we were a real Saddleworth, with Richard Wainwright as MP as part of Colne Valley.
    I’d rather spoil my paper than vote for them. We see them on the hillsides here,before they become mutton.

  • Rachael Wood

    Perfectly good site available at Uppermill and still no good reason given as to why it cannot be used.

  • Samantha Marshall

    I am appalled at the way our Lib Dem elected representatives are a) not listening to their voters and b) have been totally taken in by the spin emanating from the propaganda machine coming out of OMBC.

    They continue to say “It’s Diggle or nothing” like a mantra. I say more like a broken record.

    Having looked at the new SDAG proposals, the EFA have never said that the school cannot be built in Uppermill. These councillors keep referring back to a 2008 report when the proposal for Uppermill was entirely different. Cllr Lord even said that the surveyors of the 2008 report only looked at the bottom of the Uppermill site and never looked at the top where SDAG propose to build the new School. They are all making assumptions without any hard evidence.

    Councillors still quote from OMBCs FAQ saying the reason why it can’t be built on the existing site is that “this option would exceed the EFA funding envelope”, however this statement is in relation to the original proposals stated at the public meeting on the 16th October 2013 that OMBC asked the EFA if the school could be knocked down and then rebuilt while the children were decamped onto another site. It was felt that even if there was a site to decamp the children to that this option would be too expensive and too disruptive. It is this option that exceeded “the EFA funding envelope” not the new SDAG proposal.

    Of the SDAG proposal this is what OMBC’s FAQ says:
    “Is it true that the Council have received a plan from local residents showing how the existing site could be developed?

    The Council have received a plan from a local architect showing a potential option of how the existing site could be re-used in support of the new school.

    The school’s Technical Group are considering this and whether or not this presents a more affordable scheme in comparison with that previously prepared and costed by the EFA’s technical advisors.

    Both the Council and school are committed to delivering the best solution for the area within the EFA’s affordability envelope.”

    How the so called Technical Group (with only a couple of technical people on it), which has never had detailed costings for either site, has been able to make an informed decision is beyond me. Their “common sense” approach is just not good enough. Some on the group felt pressured into making a decision from Matthew Milburn, when they expressed that they required more information before they could make any decision.

    So the facts are:

    1. The EFA have never said they can’t build the SDAG proposal in Uppermill.

    2. The Technical Group were supposed have a view on the affordability of the SDAG scheme compared with Diggle, but had no direct comparison costs for each site to make any informed decision. So their decision is laughable.

    3. From OMBC’s own Capital Strategy 2013/2017 published in Feb 2013, we know that the EFA is only funding the school buildings (the main school building and the sports block), but everything else is down to OMBC to pay for.

    4. Cllr Jim McMahon stated at the public meeting on the 16th October 2013 of the highway improvements “Well this is going to be an expensive thing to do properly. Of all the areas that you can save money, that isn’t one of them.”
    In fact their own FAQs state: “by proceeding with the [land] swap, the Council would receive a capital receipt that would be used to help fund the highway improvement works at Diggle.” So they already agree that the land swap money won’t even cover the costs of all the proposed highway improvement works in Diggle, never mind all the rest of the project that they have to pay for.

    So clearly, comparative costing for each site must be undertaken before a decision on the location is made.

  • Realist

    OK SDAG stop the school in Diggle.
    The funds will not cover as I understand it the re-build on the present site and some of SDAG’s costing are absurd (£200,000 for a new road!!)
    So no new school; the old one is closed in due course as unfit for purpose and cannot satisfy fire regs.
    OMBC have 1100 spare secondary school places now and an approved academy for 700 more (Newman College has just sacked 6 Teachers as no children to teach per the Chron and Waterhead has 500 spare I am told)
    Hope SDAG can stop the buses to take Saddleworth children to the empty places: not seen them promise that.
    Then you get houses on U’mill and Diggle sites.

  • Mel Koen

    I am surprised that no parents are currently in an outrage at the constant comments about how unsafe the school is currently…if parents/teachers/councillors are that worried why are they letting their children attend such an unsafe, unfit for purpose school!

  • True Realist

    Answer is simple-those kids who live in Springhead and Austerlands go to fill vacant places at Waterhead. Those living in the villsges go to a smaller Saddleworth school in Uppermill. Less travel for all.
    How hard is that?

  • Living in a Banana Republic

    Realist – What the build the school in Diggle at all cost people fail to grasp is we are up in arms due to the lack of information, transparency and underhanded way this is being railroaded through. We don’t know the costs that is the point we are trying to make in order that an objective view can be made. We want a school for Saddleworth children but in the most appropriate place, not where it’s just convenient for OMBC without considering those who live there. I also think you need to realise that there will be houses built in Diggle too even if the school goes ahead there. They will be built on the pallet yard (you know the place where the council would like most people to think the school is going on) right by the green field / green belt where the school will go, so your point is?

  • Susanna Buckley-Shaw

    I live in Diggle and I’m dismayed at some of my neighbours’ views on the new school, everyone seems completely blinkered and making out that the new school will be horrendous. What is everyone’s problem? It’s just a big green field, and not a particularly attractive one at that. The building will only be 2-storeys high, we’ll still keep all our lovely views beyond and then a muddy field nobody uses will be transformed into a site to educate our kids. And that’s a BAD thing????

    When the school arrives and the Pallet works is filled with houses our village will become the best in Saddleworth – I actually feel sorry for the people over in Uppermill who will lose the school. Why is everyone being so blinkered about it?

    Come on guys, open your minds, let’s complete our village with a school and some nice houses

    • Ann

      I am equally dismayed by your view. If you had stepped outside your door or ever walked along the canal towpath in spring or summer you may have noticed lapwings displaying & raising chicks in what you see as ‘just a muddy field’. This is a declining & scarce breeding species in the UK & Its a shame that OMBC do not value wildlife or see it as something worth protecting. Its a shame that people don’t see or appreciate what they have on their doorstep & would have important wildlife areas concreted over for the sake of saving money. If the money was used to re-build the school in Uppermill it would result in a better school for the children with better sports facilities. Please don’t believe the lies of the politicians….they don’t care about the children, they haven’t thought about the traffic safety issues & only seem to care about the people with the money. There are people who have lived in Diggle all their life….they know how this works.

  • Saddleworth Voice

    Susanna Buckley-Shaw

    Yes it is a ‘bad thing’ Why? Because if Saddleworth adopts your point of view it will quickly loose everything that makes it so special.

    Did you choose to live in Diggle because it had a 1500 pupil school?

    Your ‘lovely views’ will be lost – 60 ft high floodlights, ‘out of the box’, low cost option Priority Schools Building Programme school, Give me a ‘muddy field’ – at least I can be happy in the knowledge that the children will be receiving a fantastic education in a great school rebuilt on it’s exiting site and Saddleworth will be allowed to continue celebrating all that is uniquely ‘Saddleworth’

    People are not blinkered – their eyes are wide open and that is why they can see the consequences of this decision for now and future generations.

    Perhaps you should consider removing your blinkers?

  • Happy Diggle Resident

    Saddleworth Voice – you need to change your Name as you quite clearly are NOT representing most people.
    Not sure where you live but ad a Diggle resident and parent of 3 children ( 1 ar Saddleworth & 2 due to attending the next 2 years ) I am horrified at your negative attitude to the need for a new school.
    The Uppermill site is not fit-for-purpose , if we don’t have the school in Diggle we risk having no school in Saddleworth .
    As a supposed Voice for everyone you should deem this as a priority for the community otherwise the area risks being very unattractive for families to live in.

  • I just want too make a few comments, at the start of Huddersfield Road where its very narrow the wonderful problem solvers say there will be double yellow lines to stop RESIDENTS parking, well walking up Wool Road guess where the people waiting to pick their children up were parked on double yellow lines so they will obviously think that they have been put on Huddersfield Road for them. My other comments are to do with all the floods and people shouldn’t buy houses on flood plains or near rivers liable to flood, have you seen the latest pictures or seen the fields where the school and playing fields are likely to be built, shouldn’t OMBC be taking all this into account?

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