A NEAR-decade long saga over controversial plans to build a new £19 million high school in Saddleworth could finally be over as councillors prepare to make a decision later this month.

The proposals to relocate the existing Saddleworth School in Uppermill to a new purpose built site in Diggle have been the subject of protests by residents, and the original plans were rejected by a High Court Judge in 2016.

However, a new full application submitted on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education will be debated by Oldham council’s planning committee at an "extraordinary" meeting on February 28.

The four parts of the application to be considered include the main plan to build a new school, sports pitches, playing fields and areas for play and parking.

It proposes knocking down the existing five buildings on the WH Shaw site, but not the demolition of the Grade-Two listed office building and clock tower.

However the plan to demolish the attached link bridge remain.

This had been a major point of contention in the earlier application, which was approved by bosses in March 2015, but overruled following a judicial review brought on behalf of the Save Diggle action group.

An off-site parental drop-off area, as well as two residents’ parking areas, highways alterations and works to the access road to the former factory site are also to be considered.

Officers are recommending all four applications for approval, subject to a range of conditions and a Section 106 contribution.

Their report states that the "impact on the landscape and visual amenity" from demolishing the industrial buildings will not be "significant enough" to justify refusal, when compared to the "social and economic benefits" the school would bring.

The plans for the link bridge were a "finely balanced" decision, they add.

“Officers consider that the demolition of the link bridge results in substantial harm to the significance of the designated heritage asset whilst noting that the link bridge is not an original element of the listed building and the office’s specific special architectural and historic interest is not affected by its removal significantly,” their report states.

The use of the green belt for outdoor sport and recreation purposes is classed as "inappropriate development", planning bosses say, because of the addition of man-made features such fences, flood lights and goal posts.

But despite this they argue that the ‘substantial’ social and economic benefits of delivering a new school on the site and the "lack of suitable alternative sites" mean that there are very special circumstances that that ‘clearly’ outweigh the harm to the green belt land.

On the parking plans, officers state no concerns have been raised on design grounds, subject to a condition to ensure the retention of stone walls to Huddersfield Road and to the access road to the factory site.

And there are no highways objections, despite the fact that officers acknowledge that there will be some "minor delays and congestion in the area during very concentrated periods of time".

However they state this can be “managed and mitigated effectively”.

The Environment Agency had previously refused to support the plan over flooding fears, arguing the location was “inappropriate”.

But after six months of negotiations, officers removed their formal objection as they said they had enough evidence that the development would not increase the flood risk on the site.

Teachers and pupils say the current school, off High Street, is "falling apart".

Former head boy Joe Wheeler, had described the conditions as "surreal", with crumbling plaster, leaking roofs and flooded classrooms, and tiles being blown off in strong winds.

However, objectors have concerns about the loss of heritage assets, the impact on the green belt and the potential for increased flood risk.