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At the beginning of the Oswestry Hillfort saga  we mentioned the danger that it might develop along the lines perfected by Tarmac PLC at Thornborough Henges – and indeed used by almost every developer and market trader wishing to make a bob or two……

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You ask for the earth and progressively reduce what you’re asking for until the punters agree to what you were originally hoping for and think they’ve got a bargain.  That’s exactly the track that Oswestry seems to be taking.  No way did the developers think they’d get lucky with their first or second or third demands but now …. far fewer houses… further away … you know it makes sense Rodney!

Except that it doesn’t. It’s still awful. A while back we contrasted what was going on at Oswestry with a similar situation in Malta, and it’s Malta that is still showing how things ought to be. The number of houses  that El Del Boy wants to build near the Xaghra Stone Circle there has been reduced from 10 to 2 (and further away) but the authorities are being urged…

to prohibit any development in the buffer zone to the Xaghra Stone Circle and to change the local plan to ensure that no development is ever allowed in this zone.

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For more about Xaghra see here  and here.

Especially the ones at Oswestry!

A warning: if you want to see one of Britain’s finest hillforts at it’s optimum get up to Oswestry TODAY.  It’s hard to believe it but there are some elected Councillors on Shropshire Council that have in mind to damage its setting, so this view may well be different next Easter…..

Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), comments on the Old Oswestry housing proposal: "Countryside across England is being lost as a result of the Government’s planning policies, but the proposal to build over a hundred houses in the setting of Old Oswestry Hillfort is notably philistine and short-sighted. It is bad enough that the developer thinks this is an appropriate place to build; the fact that the Council is supporting the scheme beggars belief. Of course we need to build more houses, particularly affordable houses, but it is not necessary to trample on our history and despoil beautiful places to do so.”

View from the Hillfort, including land the delusional NIMBYs want to protect.  One of them, Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “Countryside across England is being lost as a result of the Government’s planning policies, but the proposal to build over a hundred houses in the setting of Old Oswestry Hillfort is notably philistine and short-sighted. It is bad enough that the developer thinks this is an appropriate place to build; the fact that the Council is supporting the scheme beggars belief. Of course we need to build more houses, particularly affordable houses, but it is not necessary to trample on our history and despoil beautiful places to do so.”

Notably philistine” and “not necessary“! Any Councillor who votes to allow the development is going to have to convince themselves and others that neither of those accusations is true. Good luck with that!

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IMAGE:  (C) Bill Boaden and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License

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Aristotle once asked Plato: “Is it right to take for one’s own benefit knowledge that belongs to all?” to which the old man is thought to have replied “Well, it’s legal innit in an uncivilised Northern realm?”

There’s to be a conference on “heritage ethics”. Good. But one discussion topic is “the rights of  “disfranchised groups” to access heritage”. Disfranchised is a much used term and it’s no secret it’s a coy way of referring to artefact hunters. But are they truly “disfranchised”, i.e. locked out of conventional archaeology? Personally I don’t see it. In Britain literacy is high, books and websites are numerous, training, museums, community projects and local societies are open to all. So where’s the barrier? Isn’t it that detectorists make a free choice to interact with archaeology in their particular way?

Moshenska and Dhanjal (Community Archaeology: Themes, Methods and Practices) describe two perceptions of archaeology. “Closed” which “should only be carried out by trained professionals” (or at least, in ways they approve) and “Open”, based on the idea that the public have an absolute right to experience it on their own terms with or without professional guidance. The latter version, the idea that the archaeological record is a common treasury for the population to enjoy, exploit and interact with” is self-evidently what every artefact hunter acts upon – by deliberate choice, not disfranchisement. 

So who started the disfranchisement rumour? Probably Culture Minister Lammy (in PAS’s 2005/6 Annual Report) saying PAS had “helped to break down social barriers and to reach out to people who have often felt excluded from formal education and the historic environment” and “almost 47 per cent of people recording finds with the Scheme are from groups C2, D & E.” The intended implication (else why mention it?) is that detecting is for those too uneducated to do Archaeology properly. Patronising, yes. But worse, very damaging because PAS (despite knowing full well detecting is inferior to Archaeology in terms of knowledge-loss) has adopted a core message of “please detect more responsibly” when it should have been saying “please join your local archaeology group and do Archaeology more responsibly”. It would be great if THAT was discussed at the University of Kent.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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Mitchell's Fold  (C) Graham Farrell

Mitchell’s Fold (C) Graham Farrell

If you’re in The Midlands and contemplating a “bronze age outing” this Easter, there’s no need to go far. You could visit Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle, high on the heathland of Stapeley Hill in West Shropshire. You’ll need to be fairly fit as it’s a bit of a climb but well worth it for the wonderful views it commands. Friend of The Journal Tish Farrell provides lots of information about this fascinating place here and here.

If you’re here you probably like ancient sites and want to see them fully appreciated and preserved. The Journal is a community resource for everyone that feels that way so why not join in and add your voice or images??

We’re always looking for contributions – news, views, pictures, you name it – anything that helps raise the public profile of these places. If you’re out and about over Easter and visiting an ancient site or perhaps attending a related event (you can get some ideas from our Diary of  Prehistory and Heritage Events ) and you feel you have something worth sharing why not get in touch?

Thanks! Enjoy the break. Most of us will be away but we’ll leave someone in charge of the shop for if you’d like to get in touch, particularly if you have any news.

Email:             info@heritageaction.org.uk
Twitter:         The Heritage Journal …..  @heritageaction
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Telephone:   07542 258107

The CPRE has issued “a wake up call for the Government”…..
“We are saying loud and clear that whatever their original intentions, the reformed planning system is not working. Local people are being disregarded, open countryside is being developed while suitable brownfield land is left unused, and still too few homes are being built. We have evidence from across England that the effects of current policies on the countryside are devastating, with the Green Belt, protected areas and, above all, our ‘ordinary’ but hugely valued countryside, destroyed or threatened with destruction. Our latest research into adopted and emerging Local Plans shows at least 500,000 new homes planned for greenfield sites. This could result in the loss of 150sq Km of irreplaceable countryside. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Destruction on this scale is totally unnecessary when there are enough suitable brownfield sites for around 1.5 million homes.”  More here.

The National Trust concurs…..
“Councils are being “hustled” into allowing development on greenfield land by central Government” (their Director) and “the green belt is no longer sacrosanct …. At the present moment 150,000 applications are in for the green belt…. This should be absolutely inconceivable.” (their Chairman).  More here .

In stark contrast, the Government’s says:
“This Government values and protects the countryside” (Planning Minister Nick Boles).

That’s very similar to what they said way back at the time of the introduction of Section 79 of the Planning Practice Guidance …..

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Lest

Depending on who you believe you may wish to sign the CPRE’s Charter to Save our Countryside HERE

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Wiltshire does a Shropshire!              [Image Credit: Montage: NSE 2014]

The above of course is a fantasy. But it’s interesting because the distance from the monument to the houses, about 150 m, is similar to the first proposal for the development around Oswestry Hill Fort. What would be regarded as utterly ludicrous and unacceptable worldwide in Wiltshire is being pushed for in Shropshire.  And yes, Shropshire County Council, “pushed for”. No-one should imagine it’s not obvious that for some people this isn’t a process, it’s a plan.

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Anyway, those campaigning to keep Oswestry Hill Fort’s setting development-free may enjoy Section 7.2 of the November minutes of the English Heritage Advisory Committee, just released. It was a presentation on “setting” and how EH’s guidance on the subject has been “woven into government guidance”. Their key points on setting are:

  • There is always a degree of subjectivity in assessing setting but EH guidance provides a standard framework and means of analysis. The Department for Communities and Local Government has accepted the approach.
  • A line to define setting cannot be mapped in advance of development proposals coming forward. It is not fixed spatially.
  • Appreciation of setting will change over time.
  • While visual impacts, especially views, are likely to be the most important factors, other elements may well affect setting.
  • Setting is not dependent upon public accessibility (but especially ‘popular’ views etc may be particularly important).
  • Designed settings may well be more important than ‘fortuitous’ settings but the latter, e.g. in many conservation areas, may be a major part of the significance of the heritage asset.
  • Setting has no significance in its own right: setting is not a heritage asset; it is not a designation.
  • The interest in the setting of a heritage asset lies in what it adds to (or detracts from) the significance of the asset.
  • Only some elements of the setting may have a bearing on that significance; others may be neutral.
  • Buried archaeology can have a setting.

We suspect it is good news for the campaigners in 3 ways….
1. Nearly all of those points can be cited to suggest development would be inappropriate, not the reverse.
2. EH have formulated a standard framework and means of analysis for assessing setting which the Government has accepted. Nothing could be more sensible. It means there should be no purely subjective, inexplicable or unclear decisions, whether by officials, councillors or Inspectors.
3. EH has already said the Hillfort is “one of the greatest archaeological monuments of the nation” and yet, as everyone can see, it’s setting on the Town side has been reduced so much  that it’s now derisory. So it would be SOME “standard framework and means of analysis” that enabled any official or councillor to successfully argue it ought to be even smaller! So bravo to EH for constructing a bulwark against impenetrable or idiosyncratic decisions.

That’s all the Campaigners have ever asked for or been owed, a fair assessment on the merits of the case. Nothing else.

Dear Fellow Landowners,

Farmer Brown and colleague randomly and selectively truffle hunting entirely for their own personal benefit.  (A renewable resource so a morally defensible pastime.)

Farmer Brown and colleague randomly and selectively truffle hunting entirely for their own personal benefit.
(A renewable resource so a morally defensible pastime.)

You’d expect a TV series showing detectorists incompetently digging up dead bodies(as one termed it) would be universally condemned. Yet many detectorists still haven’t done so and the overall hobby “verdict” seems to be settling down to a comforting “they were stitched up by National Geographic”. But the question is: “would bus drivers or bank clerks have been?”  It seems unlikely. Anyway, one of them is also excused on the grounds he’s well respected and has “many Youtube videos showing how to detect properly”. However, that’s not what his website reveals.

It recommends a  letter to send to farmers which contains not a word about reporting finds or the code of conduct together with a contract to get him to sign which also says nothing about those subjects, Tellingly, he also advises people to talk to the farmer “about history not treasure” and not to show him the contract straight away “in case it scares him”. Friends, they are YOUR artefacts. The ONLY “contract” you need is to assert that fact and that access must be on YOUR terms. The authorities have no right to have damaged your interest by advising you to sign anything else.

Friends, professionals clearly enjoyed a few days of fury over a telly programme but why aren’t they shouting permanently about the misbehaviour in your fields by huge numbers of people who fail to report finds and get you to sign contracts that benefit them, not you or history. You’re on your own about controlling that, the expendable victims of a failure to tell it how it is. Terrible, innit? If you doubt it, write and ask the Culture Secretary or PAS why they recommend you to sign a finds agreement and how it won’t damage your interest and that of the country. They won’t have an answer and won’t admit who  insisted on it being said as the price of their reluctant signature on the official Code but I think I know. In fact even my pig Tanya knows that. “Cui Bono?” she seems to ask with her come-to-bed eyes every time she finds a truffle.

Regards,

Silas Brown
Grunters Hollow Farm,
Worfield,
Salop

Update, 20 April 2014  The cheery digging up dead bodies” boast has now been hidden. (Or laundered,  like much else, both in forums and fields.) The hobby can now carry on telling the public the participants were fine fellows,  tricked into taking part by wicked National Geographic!

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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Junction Earthworks, Ohio [Photo by kind permission of Jarrod Burks]

Junction Earthworks, Ohio [Photo by kind permission of Jarrod Burks]

Last month many people in Ohio were understandably scandalised that their local Hopewell Culture monuments and their surroundings were up for auction and that some of the setting was being targeted by developers. So they launched a campaign, raised $375,000 from the public, obtained various grants and successfully bid for the land at the auction.

In total they bought the 89 acre earthworks tract, two separate tracts of forest (for which they were bidding against developers), and a third tract of river corridor along Paint Creek. The total cost was about $1.1 million at an average of $5751 per acre. They now intend to create a park and preserve and will be raising more funds for land restoration and stewardship, a hikng trail, and interpretive signs. See more here.

SOLD to the nice people who care for Heritage!

SOLD to the nice people who care for Heritage!

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If only the same could happen in Oswestry, but unfortunately the price tag there, just for the bit of the setting that’s being targeted by developers, would be more than 10 million pounds. Which explains a lot!

The remains of a two thousand years old Roman wall (yes, Roman – we’re thinking of extending our remit beyond the prehistoric) in Winchester has been removed and “turned to rubble” to make way for new houses. “It’s desperately sad” said Colin Cook, of the Winchester Area Tourist Guides Association. “As far as I can see it’s gone away on a lorry. There is no possibility of rebuilding it anywhere else.” 

A Council spokesman said “preservation of part of the surviving remains of the city wall within the site is not possible” and earlier Professor Martin Biddle, a world-renowned archaeologist had said that so long as the site was fully excavated and recorded, he did not feel the wall was necessarily worth preserving. “Cities are living things” he added.

Indeed, but a 2000 year old wall? Couldn’t the 14 new houses have been built further out where perhaps a 1950′s toilet block or a wooden bus shelter could have been sacrificed to progress? Was there nowhere else where Winchester’s housing stock could have been expanded by 14 except in the heart of the city where houses  prices (and profits) are sky high? Was preservation of part of the surviving remains of the city wall truly “not possible”? It all seems a bit Oddwestry.

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