A guest post by Tish Farrell
Last week news of housing development threats to Old Oswestry Hill Fort in Shropshire made the national press:. There are plans afoot to allocate land for the building of three housing developments on sites below the south east slopes of the hill fort (OSWOO2, 003 and 004 on the map below). These sites currently lie outside Oswestry town’s development boundary. So why is this happening?
First it is important to know that planning law in England favours developers. Further, the current official ethos is that housing development equals growth. For the past two years Conservative-run Shropshire Council has been engaged in allocating new land for development around all its towns and market communities (Site Allocation and Management of Development or SAMDev). Each community has a Place Plan that includes these allocations. The plans are supposed to reflect the community’s expressed aspirations. More likely, most people in the county were either unaware, or completely disinterested in the fact that they had the chance to participate. What we end up, then, is the result of the inclinations of a minority who do participate.
The SAMDev process involves landowners and developers proposing development sites outside communities’ existing development boundaries i.e. those agreed by previous district councils which no longer exist. No development can take place outside a development boundary unless the boundary is changed through a public consultation process, or a case can be made for an exception site for affordable housing.
As Iron Age sites go, Old Oswestry stands among the nation’s most important and best preserved monuments. It is especially unusual in that it does not dominate a remote hilltop as do Shropshire’s other large hill forts such Bury Ditches and the Wrekin, but lies on rising ground just to the north east of Oswestry town. It is presently in the care of English Heritage. In July 2013 the first draft of the SAMDev allocations was open for public consultation. Shropshire Council reported that “Respondents were split 51% in support and 49% in objection to the proposed new boundary. The main reason for objecting to the boundary related to the inclusion of sites OSW002, 003 and 004;”
Since then, objectors have been making their feelings known. There is a Change.org petition, a Facebook campaign, and welcome coverage from the Guardian and other media. But will it make any difference?
(to be continued)