78% in an independent poll said build Saddleworth School on the existing site in Uppermill

(source: Saddleworth School Poll on Saddleworth News)


90% of those asked are signing our door to door petition

Over 3000 people have signed a door to door petition asking for the EFA and OMBC to build new Saddleworth School on the existing site in Uppermill and it's growing

Come and JOIN THEM
Sign our online petition TODAY


Judicial Review Outcome

High Court Verdict (02/03/2017)

"UNLAWFUL"

The court was being asked whether the process followed by Oldham Council in reaching its decision to grant planning permission to build a new Saddleworth School in Diggle was lawful.

The court has said clearly and unequivocally that it was unlawful.

Accordingly, the court has quashed the decision and the Council will now have to look at the matter again. The reason for the court's judgement is that when making their decision councillors were not given the opportunity to consider whether the school would be better placed on the Uppermill site.

The decision was based not just "on a technicality", as others are now suggesting in the media, but on a serious breach of planning law.

The long held SDAG argument that the Uppermill site is a viable alternative which would attract the EFA's full funding and that both the EFA's and Oldham Council's site selection processes were seriously flawed has been UPHELD by the judge and in turn must now be acknowledged by Oldham Council.

Have Councillors been misled?

On the 9th March 2017, Councillors Garth Harkness, Derek Heffernan and John McCann published their letter to Oldham Council. It highlighted the media reports from the judical review stating "The court heard the council accepted that redeveloping the school on its existing site, whilst a more expensive option, would be 'viable and affordable'". As this statement implied that this "contradicts every single briefing I and my colleagues have ever received from Oldham Council and others" they were asking whether counillors been misled by Oldham Council officers. [Full letter from Councillors Garth Harkness, Derek Heffernan and John McCann]

On the 5th April 2017, Mrs Samantha Marshall, a Diggle resident who had previously met with the EFA and provided witness statements for the judicial review hearing of this meeting, replied directly to Councillors Garth Harkness, Derek Heffernan and John McCann in an email. This email included a detailed letter outlining all the facts within an FAQ, together with factual documentary evidence to back up her statements.

Quoting from Mr Justice Kerr's judgement

  • "The alternative site was obviously relevant for a number of reasons [90]"
  • "The Educational Funding Authority study had not ruled out Uppermill on financial grounds [91]"
  • "The feasibility study had not included any consideration of harm to a heritage asset[92]"
  • "there would be savings to be made in relation to bus transport[93]"

"I bear in mind that the objectors' arguments in favour of Uppermill were not obviously trivial and without merit, and that the Secretary of State [for Education], though served as an interested party, has not sought to contradict Ms Marshall's account of her contacts with the EFA and the indication that it would be willing to fund redevelopment of the school on the existing site should the council choose that option.[154]"

Mr Justice Kerr was also highly critical of the Council's suggestion, which was also instructed to the planning committee in April 2016, that if heritage had been included as another criteria within the EFA's feasibility study's scoring exercise, that the Diggle Pallet Works site would have still "outstripped Uppermill as the preferred site[100]"

Mr Justice Kerr states "This is to reduce the concept of substantial harm to a heritage asset to a mere unweighted number in a scoring exercise which assumes, without warrant, that the heritage concerns should command the same weight in the scoring exercise as other concerns that were scored in the feasibility study. Furthermore, if heritage concerns had been scored in the exercise, they might well have been downplayed just as they later were in the February 2016 report which characterised the damage as less than substantial.[101]"

Our factual evidence presented at the Judicial Review hearing

  1. The EFA's Feasibility Study's recommendation of the Diggle Pallet Works site was "made on the option offering the best value for money to the public purse" NOT the best site option in planning terms.

  2. The EFA's feasibility study exercise, carried out in 2014, did not include consideration of the effects of the proposals on heritage assets and the harm to them.

  3. The Council's Cabinet Saddleworth School site selection report (30/03/2015) also did not include consideration of the effects of the proposals on heritage assets and the harm to them. That the Council was under the misapprehension at the time that "The development of the school will arguably result in a better setting for the listed building.[Page 28]", even though there had been no heritage assessment completed by either the EFA or Oldham Council to inform this belief. (Since March 2016, the Council has acknowledged that the new school development in Diggle will result in "significant" harm to the iconic Dobcross Loom Works Grade II listed clock tower building.)

  4. That Mr Mike Green, Head of Capital at the EFA, had confirmed the following facts at several different meetings with local Saddleworth Independent Parish Councillors and Diggle residents:

    • Both Uppermill site options had NOT been ruled out for any reason by the EFA (including against costs, disruption or safety).

    • Both Uppermill site options were covered by the EFA's overall funding envelope, which included adequate extra funding for abnormals (i.e. ground preparation, levelling and demolition) over and above their 19.2m fixed budget for the construction of the school buildings. The Uppermill site options had more abnormal costs associated with them, but these were still within their overall funding budget.

    • The final choice of site remained solely a decision for Oldham Council.

    • Both Uppermill site options were viable options for the new school and should Oldham Council request the EFA to locate the new school on one of these two Uppermill site options, then the EFA would do so and it would be covered by their funding.

    • Should the Diggle Pallet Works option be chosen by the Council and the planning permission subsequently refused for any reason, the focus would then shift to a different site, which would include those in Uppermill.

SDAG has always campaigned for:-

  • A new school for Saddleworth, but on the most appropriate site, which is the existing school site in Uppermill.

  • The Council to listen to and take on board the concerns and wishes of the Saddleworth people and to abide by their legal obligations.

The opposition to the choice of Diggle as the site for the new school has attracted an extremely high level of support as can be seen from the following statistics:-

  • FACT: A petition with almost 3000 signatures was given to the Council in February 2015, requesting the Council build the new school in Uppermill. (The biggest petition in the Council's history and the only one ever to reach the Council's threshold to trigger a debate in a full Council meeting.) [Full Council meeting of the 04/02/2015]

  • FACT: During the Council's site selection public consultation process in February 2015 the Council received 912 letters supporting the school remain in Uppermill, 154 supporting the move to Diggle and 28 who were neutral. [Information provided by Cllr Amanda Chadderton in response to a public question at the full Council meeting on the 01/04/2015]

  • FACT: During the individual school planning application consultation process beginning in August 2015, the Council received 661 objection letters and 9 letters of support. [Planning Officers Report 13/04/2016 9.12 page 90 and 9.14 page 96]

  • FACT: During the planning application consultation process for the four combined planning applications beginning the 23rd December 2015, the Council received a further 1339 objection letters and 26 letters of support. [Planning Officers Report 13/04/2016 9.8 page 76 and 9.11 page 89]

  • FACT: Oldham Council only received a total of 35 letters in support for the Diggle planning applications whilst a record 2000 objection letters were received opposing the scheme.

Our costly legal challenge would have been impossible without the financial support of so many local people, and who also gave us their unwavering moral support to take this matter all the way to the High Court.

Thank you for having so much faith in us and our legal team.

We must stress our utmost thanks to our legal team Robert McCracken QC and Alastair Wallace, from Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, who have shepherded us through the legal tangle and stress of this campaign, your patience and judgements have always been right.

It was our last chance in this long process to challenge what we and our many supporters believed was a flawed site selection process and the unlawful approval of the four planning applications for Diggle.

The High Court's judgement has now validated the arguments that SDAG have been putting forward for the last 3 years - that the new Saddleworth School could and should be built in Uppermill.

Going forward

The previous flawed site selection process and unlawful approach of the Council has led to an unnecessary delay in the provision of a much needed new school for Saddleworth.

Escalating costs to support the building of the school in Diggle

At Oldham Council's Cabinet Budget meeting last month (20/02/2017), it was admitted that there may not be sufficient funds allocated in Oldham Council's budget (allocated from the future land swap capital receipt) to support the building of the new Saddleworth School in Diggle. [Appendix 1 Capital Strategy 2017/18 to 2020/21 pages 9 and 32-33].

This now means that Oldham Council would have to allocate further funds from their own capital reserves, over and above the land swap capital receipt, in order to fund the building of the new school in Diggle.

This now strengthens the case to justify building the new school in Uppermill, which already has all the necessary infrastructure required to support a school of this size, together with much smaller support costs to Oldham Council, when compared with Diggle.

This extra funding requirement, does not take into account the additional annual public funding required for additional transport costs, in the region of 200,000 every year [Saddleworth School site selection report of 30/03/2015 5.13 page 16], required for both extra local and dedicated school buses, should the school move to Diggle. This annual cost will rise in the coming years due to inflation and rising fuel costs and will wipe out any previous misguidedly perceived "value for money" savings the move to Diggle may have had.

As it is clear that Oldham Council is currently struggling to fund basic social services, shouldn't an unnecessary annually incurred cost to the taxpayer of this magnitude be viewed as a major disadvantage to site the new school in Diggle.

What now?

This is now an appropriate time for Oldham Council, with all the facts now placed before them:-

  • To re-evaluate the site selection of the new Saddleworth School.

  • To listen to the concerns and wishes of the thousands of Saddleworth people who consider the best site for the school is on its existing site in Uppermill.

To prevent any further unnecessary delays, we ask Oldham Council to now choose the Uppermill Playing Field site option for the new Saddleworth School as soon as possible, which allows for the new school to be built along side the existing school, causing minimal disruption, and request the withdrawal of the four Diggle planning applications.

We should now 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.

Let's get on with building a new school at Uppermill.

[Read Mr Justice Kerr's full judgement]