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Education Funding Agency response to the Diggle "Rear Site" option

After a meeting with OMBC on Thursday 29th August 2013, Jane Brighouse, Project Director at the Education Funding Agency, wrote to Darren Jones, Director of Development and Infrastructure at OMBC, outlining their reasons why the rear site option at Diggle was not suitable.

SDAG have obtained a copy of this letter through a Freedom of Information request and publish its content in full below.

As OMBC have been privy to this information for almost a year, we find it hard to believe that they are still of the opinion that the rear site option in Diggle is the most cost effective and best location of the new Saddleworth School.

You decide ....


Darren Jones
Director of Development and Infrastructure
Oldham MBC
Civic Centre
West Street, Oldham,
OL1 1UH

Dear Darren,

RELOCATION OF SADDLEWORTH SCHOOL

I refer to recent discussions regarding the above and the possibility of building a new school to replace the existing Saddleworth School on the site of Shaw's Mill, Huddersfield Road, Diggle and in particular to the meeting held in your offices on Thursday 29th August 2013.

As discussed, after having prepared several options, the EFA are firmly of the belief that the solution lies in constructing the new school on land at the front of the site which is west of the Diggle Brook and south of the existing access road which serves the land at the rear of the site occupied by a Grade II Listed Building and Shaw's Mills.

As requested, below I set out the rationale for selecting the frontage land rather than that at the rear, as follows:

  1. Grade II Listed Building

    The EFA and their advisors have visited the building on a number of occasions to assess its suitability for educational purposes and also commissioned a Condition Survey to inform discussions about potential costs for refurbishment.

    Our Education Advisor has noted that to be able to be use the Listed Building for educational purposes there would need to be a lift provided and an alternative exit stair installed - the existing staircase also requiring a redesign of the balustrading to comply with Building Regulations. The spiral staircase to the second floor would be unacceptable for pupil or staff use, rendering the second floor unusable, except perhaps, for storage.

    Our Technical Advisor has reviewed the plans and the optimium position for a lift shaft would be to exit through the flat roof area at the rear of the building. Internally this would pass from the ground floor through the only large space suitable for teaching on the first floor. It may be possible to provide a lift shaft externally to the building but this would require detailed discussions with your Planning Department.

    With the school's particular teaching and pedagogical needs it is difficult to see what could be accommodated in this building without waste of space. It may be possible to house administrative and staff facilities within the building but if all management offices were in the Listed Building then the remote new main building would be left without suitable 'passive' control spaces.

    The Condition Survey noted that the building, which has stood empty for several years, has suffered from not being maintained with the front corner of the building in a particularly poor state of repair due to water ingress. Inter alia, the survey noted the following:
    • There are extensive areas of wet and dry rot evident in various parts of the building.
    • Areas of the roof require significant works to make the building weathertight.
    • Significant movement in beams supporting the ground floor slab, causing movement of the floor slab requiring extensive remedial works in these areas.
    • Windows will require replacing throughout, which the planners have suggested should be on a like-for-like basis to retain the character of the building.
    • It is anticipated that there is no insulation provided to the building and therefore that thermal efficiency will be poor. This could be introduced subject to agreement with the planners, although it is unlikely that double glazing would be permitted.
    • There is no provision for DDA access and no disabled toilet provision within the building. These would both be required if the building were converted to educational purposes.

    Budget estimates prepared indicate that the cost to bring the Listed Building back to 'habitable' condition would be in the region of 750K - 800K. It is estimated that to make the building fit for educational purposes, including installation of a lift (internally or externally), additional stairs, additional WCs including disabled WCs, secondary means of escape and complete renewal of services would be in excess of 2M. This is clearly beyond the funding criteria set out by the EFA.

    Should it be possible to bring the building back into use for educational purposes then a further concern would be the ongoing maintenance and life cycle costs for a building of this nature over and above those associated with a new build facility. This would be a liability which the school would have to take on and fund from its annual budget.

    During discussions with yourselves it was suggested that the Listed Building might be taken out of the 'redline' area allocated for the new school. This would be unacceptable to the EFA since it would leave the building untouched in its current condition and prominent at the entrance to our new facility. In addition, we consider that it would potentially be a 'magnet' to sudents for other than educational purposes, with future management issues for the school.

  2. Existing works/factory

    While I appreciate that Oldham MBC are prepared to commit to demolition of the existing works/factory and reclamation and remediation of the site prior to building of the school on the area I am concerned about potential timescales in getting these works carried out for when our Selected Panel Member (when appointed) would want to commence construction, currently envisaged to commence in May/June 2014.

    We would need to agree the level of remediation with you prior to undertaking any works on the building of the new school and would be looking for warranties from your contractors that the site had been satisfactorily remediated.

  3. Other site issues

    Having carried out a site inspection and initial desk top studies on the information available on the site we would highlight several other issues which we feel constrain the construction of the school on the rear of the site:

    1. Culverts

      Plans indicate that there appear to be 2 culverts running across the site, one in an east - west direction and the other in a north - south direction (although the latter may collect only surface water from the site). The location of the east - west culvert restricts development on the site both in terms of its location and any wayleaves/easements that may be required by the owner. The current condition of the culvert is unknown. Ideally the culvert would be diverted around the perimeter of the site.

      If the second culvert carries only surface water then this may be redundent under the new proposals and could be removed under the site reclamation works to be carried out by yourselves.

    2. Access Road and Bus Drop Off / Turning Facility.

      Access to the site from Huddersfield Road is along an existing track approximately 110m long and 6m wide. There are currently no footpaths provided along the road and the condition of the surface is poor (having been patched in several areas). Provision of a bus drop off / turning facility would be additional costs on the scheme and may be of the order of 250K. As you are aware, the EFA do not fund Sn 106 or Sn 278 works through the PSBP Programme and therefore the Local Authority would be required to fund these works.

    3. Bridge over Diggle Brook.

      At the eastern end of the access road is a small bridge which crosses Diggle Brook to provide access to the existing works/factory. There is no information about its current condition and we therefore have concerns about the capacity of this bridge to sustain construction traffic and about future long-term maintenance and repair, which may become a liability for the school given that they will be the only 'destination' on the site at the rear.

      The solution may require the rebuilding of the existing bridge or construction a new one adjacent to the existing. Either option would be expensive (of the order of 350K - 400K) - again a cost which is outwith the EFA funding criteria.

    4. Canal

      The Huddersfield Narrow Canal passes at the rear of the site and the site boundary appears to indicate that part of the canalside path would be included within the demise transferred to the school and that part of the boundary is directly on the canal wall. The condition of the existing canal wall is unknown.

      The above issues could be problematical to the school in terms of security, safety, buildability, liability and the need for furture maintenance requirements and easements and also present management issues for the school in terms of access by students to these areas.

    5. Invasive Species

      When we walked the site it was noted that there were some species of invasive plants present on the eastern boundary of the site along the canal. It is assumed that these will be removed/treated by yourselves prior to handing the site to the school.

  4. Summary

    In summary we feel that the specific problems associated with construction of the school on the rear of the site and the costs in addressing them are prohibitive and, at a total possibly around 3M, far above the EFA Funding Allowance for the school (these would be in addition to any 'abnormal' costs identified by survey results in respect of which a limited EFA budget is available). If we were to go ahead with this site then funding from yourselves would be required to meet these costs, which would be in addition to any costs that would be incurred by Oldham MBC in carrying out demolition, reclamation and remediation of the area.

For purposes of clarity, the Council in all cases will be responsible for the demolition / disposal of the existing School at Uppermill.

I trust that, while the costs above are estimates based on the limited amount of information available, the above adequately sets out our concerns regarding the land at the rear of the site and should be happy to discuss further with you if you wish.

Following discussions last week we are confident that a solution acceptable to all can be found to construct the school on an area of land to the west of Diggle Brook and south of the existing access road and we look forward to working with yourselves and the school to develop an option for this site.

Yours sincerely

Jane Brighouse

Project Director
Education Funding Agency

Read the response to OMBC from the Environment Agency on 09/08/2013 when asked about the culvert.


SDAG has also obtained an email from the EFA to OMBC dated the 20th August 2013, which includes that the existing site was always a option. However, OMBC told the people of Saddleworth at the public meeting on the 16th October 2013 that the EFA would not re-build the school on the existing site.

From: BRIGHOUSE, Jane
Sent: 20th August 2013 14:03
To: darren.jones@oldham.gov.uk; chris.hill@oldham.gov.uk
Subject: Site of Saddleworth School

Darren, Chris

I have spoken to David Ogden today with regard to the site of the new Saddleworth School.

It would appear, according to David, that the 'agreed' site was the area of land closest to the Huddersfield Road, as highlighted on the attached. In David's view, the lower site was never presented as an option.

We have spent some considerable time and cost (including the survey of the listed building) working on the lower site. We now need to know, as a matter of urgency, whether the upper site can be secured for the siting of the school. As an alternative, we will need to re-consider the existing school site.

As you are aware we are working on tight timescales and need to get a control option for the school as soon as possible. I would be grateful if you could confirm that the original land swap agreement is still an option within the timescales.

Regards

Jane Brighouse
Project Director, Priority School Building Programme
Education Funding Agency

Based: Cheshire


From: Jane.BRIGHOUSE@education.gsi.gov.uk
Sent: 20th August 2013 14:25
To: chris.hill@oldham.gov.uk
Subject: FW: Site of Saddleworth School

Chris

I am aware that Darren is on holiday until next Tuesday. Is there anyone else I can speak to in his absence to determine the availability of the upper site for the new school.

We will not be considering the lower site further

Many thanks

Jane

Jane Brighouse
Project Director, Priority School Building Programme
Education Funding Agency

Based: Cheshire

SDAG clarification note: The EFA refers here to the Diggle rear site as the "lower site" and the Diggle front site as the "upper site"