Leading Saddleworth Independent Councillors and Saddleworth School campaigners travelled to Coventry recently to present a petition to the Education Funding Agency (EFA) urging the Agency to build the New Saddleworth Secondary School in Uppermill rather than Diggle.
The EFA are currently assessing four sites as options for the location of the new school. The petition, signed by over 3,000 Saddleworth residents and other concerned parties was handed to Mr Mike Green, Education Funding Agency (EFA), Director of Capital, at the Agencies offices in Coventry. A forty five minute meeting followed with Mr Green in which he explained the EFAs position and the present state of the feasibility study.
The Group say they were surprised to learn that, contrary to impressions given to date, the EFA said they are only responsible for the feasibility studies, not the final decision on the location of the new school. This is entirely the responsibility of the Local Authority and School Governors. Provided the preferred site is technically feasible and acceptable in cost terms, the EFA will built the school wherever Oldham Council wished.
The Group claims that contrary to previous statements by Oldham Council and MP, Debbie Abrahams, there is no “fixed budget” of £17 million for the project, site specific factors will determine the final costs. If these are acceptable for a particular site the EFA will build the school in the location preferred by Oldham Council.
Finally, they say that Mr Green stressed that there was clearly a need for a new school in Saddleworth and the EFA are fully committed to deliver a state of the art school within the existing programme. There is no threat to the project by the present feasibility studies, these are necessary to ensure that planning issues have been properly addressed and that the school build will go ahead smoothly without technical difficulties once a final decision on location is taken.
Cllr Mike Buckley said: “Mr Green was very candid with us. He gave us straight answers to all the questions we asked. We were very grateful that he gave us nearly an hour of his time and listened carefully to our concerns.
Cllr Nikki Kirkham, who handed the petition to Mr Green said: “Residents and parents have been mislead by Oldham Council and the major political parties. They have claimed that the decision on the site rests with the EFA, clearly now this is not the case. Oldham Council will make the final decision. It is a disgrace that there has been no consultation with local people on this decision, that they won’t speak to us and that we have tried to deflect responsibility for the decision to the EFA. Jim McMahon should be prepared to meet the people of Saddleworth at a public meeting and justify why he wants the school in Diggle.”
Saddleworth News contacted the EFA to ask who would make the final decision on the new school site, a spokesperson for the EFA said: “We have been carrying out a feasibility study to review the options available to address the significant need at Saddleworth School, and have been liaising with Oldham Council and the school. We will announce the results of the study soon, and will continue to work closely with the council in deciding which site to take forward into the planning process.”