Reporter: Stuart Littleford
Oldham Council will now have to rethink their plans to build a new Saddleworth School in Diggle after a High Court ruled they were unlawful.
The school case was taken to the Royal Courts of Justice in London by the Save Diggle Action Group (SDAG) after a long fought campaign and financial backing from various sympathetic donors.
SDAG had always claimed the plans to move the school to Diggle were flawed and not enough research had been done into the suitability of building the new £19.2million school on the present site in Uppermill.
The group said more than 3,300 people had signed a petition calling for the school to remain in Uppermill and construction was originally set to begin in Easter, 2014, with it set to open in autumn, 2015.
Spokesperson for the group, Keith Lucas, said: “For all of us on the SDAG Committee and Saddleworth residents supporting our campaign, this is of course an emotional victory.
“We have always felt that the planning application process was flawed and that due consideration was never on offer or given proper consideration by the authorities to look carefully at alternative sites.
“After a 3 year campaign we all realised the only option was the daunting legal process of a Judicial Review and that decision was going to be costly and stressful. This final last stand challenge would have been out of reach to us without the support of local residents, both morally and financially, and our sincere gratitude to their unwavering support needs to be noted. Also I must stress our upmost thanks to our legal team Robert McCracken QC and Alastair Wallace – Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, who have shepherded us through the legal tangle and stress of this campaign, your patience and judgements have always been right.
“The court was being asked whether the decision by Oldham Council to grant planning permission to build a new Saddleworth School in Diggle was lawful. The court has said, in our favour, 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.
“I can only reiterate we are delighted with the outcome and for once a public concern has been given legal precedence and we have won a small victory for people’s democracy. The previous, unlawful approach of the Council has led to unnecessary delay in the provisions of a new school. Now we should 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.”
However not everyone in Saddleworth is happy with the result of the Judicial Review and many say the decision will just delay the building of the new school even longer, and it could still end up being be built in Diggle anyway.
Brian Lord, chair of governors at Saddleworth School, told Saddleworth News: “I don’t see this as a victory for SDAG, it is merely another delaying tactic which they have won on a technicality.
“If I remember correctly at the time the planning application was drawn up the local authority was unaware of any extra money being available to make the Uppermill site a possibility.
I believe that it is now possible for the local authority to submit a new application where they consider the Uppermill site but still come up with the same result – the same would apply to the listed building.
“I would ask the supporters of SDAG what do they want most for the children of Saddleworth? A new school or an old office block? I know what I would want and suspect so do the vast majority of Saddleworth people and it won’t be the latter.
Liberal Democrat Councillor, Garth Harkness said: “The Judicial Review by Mr Justice Kerr has upheld only one of the nine objections put forwards by the objectors group with the other eight being decisively dismissed.
This means that the application will have to go back to the Oldham Council Planning Committee so due consideration of other sites issue to be included in the process.
No doubt many parents, grandparents and pupils will be so disappointed at the further delay in providing a new school building for Saddleworth suitable for 21st century education yet they still reside in crumbling accommodation reaching the end of its life
Indeed other schools funded in this programme are now built, occupied and providing the facilities we want for our young people.