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Here are the six highly pertinent questions put to Shropshire Council yesterday by the estimable John Waine on behalf of HOOOH followed by extracts (outlined in red) from the answers provided by Councillor M Price, Portfolio Holder for Strategic Planning. Please read both the questions and the answers carefully. What do YOU think is going on?
And when we are old we can tell people we remember all this when it was fields….
[ Image Credit: Huw Davies ]
For the information of those children:
The up-to-date position is that the Town Councillors (who won’t be around when you are old) have given a bit of ground but, in the words of yesterday’s press release from Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort …
“Although it is objecting to houses on Oldport Farm (OSW003) in their current form, the Council is not demanding they are removed, and is accepting the largest parcel of houses off Whittington Road (OSW004) unopposed. But in response to HOOOH’s objections, the Council has added a binding condition requesting that Shropshire Council follows ‘due diligence to ensure that the heritage assessment [is] compliant with NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework] through an independent evaluation.”
So not exactly a message to the future which says “we did our utmost to protect the setting for you”……
We feel the recent letter to The Times from RESCUE, The British Archaeological Trust, is worth reproducing in full:
After the report in the Times (Letters, 2nd Jan, p29) is it time to stand back and look at what we may be allowing to be done to this country in the name of development and its presumed role as the only solution to our economic woes? Those aiming to surround Old Oswestry hillfort with a housing development offer the feeble excuse that they are not building on the hill fort itself, while at the same time ignoring the impact on views both to and from the monument (a material consideration for Scheduled Monument Consent). The people of Bath are facing plans to amend green belt land around the city with housing, roads and commercial development which will severely compromise the setting of the best surviving part of the western Wansdyke, another Scheduled Ancient Monument and landscape-scale earthwork.
Against growing threats like these, the number of people employed to examine the impact of development on our heritage is diminishing as local governments across the country cut their conservation, archaeological and museum staff, leaving some regions without cover at all, while those who are left have overwhelming work-loads. At the same time changes to English Heritage appear likely to reduce its influence. As we are only on the edge of economic growth, what other ancient monuments will be threatened as the pace of development picks up? We need to call a halt and reinstate the ground rules for protection of our Historic Monuments (and Green Belt land) before it’s too late and we need to fight for the jobs of those whose task it is to mitigate the negative effects of economic development. Our national heritage is not a luxury; in 2013 alone heritage tourism contributed some £26.4 billion to the British economy. Of what lasting value is recovery if we lose some of our most evocative and irreplaceable heritage in the process?
Dr Chris Cumberpatch
RESCUE – The British Archaeological Trust
ADDITIONAL COMMENT FROM DR GEORGE NASH:
Dear Heritage Team,
I would suggest that in addition to the term ‘Green Belt (which actually accounts for little statutory protection these days)’ would also include the term ‘Green Space’. This certainly applies to land that surrounds Old Oswestry Hillfort. Alas, it is not designated ‘Green Belt’ but according to earlier accounts it was considered ‘Brown field’. To me and the majority of people living in North Shropshire, the fields a clearly green.
On January 23 a wind farm company is bringing a legal test case which is expected to set a precedent on how much protection stately homes and historic sites have from people wanting to build turbines. (See here).
Arguably that’s a very good thing as there seems to be a lot of inconsistency in decisions but on the other hand it’s a high-risk case. The issue is whether four 400ft-high turbines should be erected less than a mile away from Lyveden New Bield, a Grade I-listed, unfinished Elizabethan lodge and moated garden. When the original go-ahead was given Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, said it was “a despicable & disastrous decision”.
If the developers win and the National Trust, English Heritage and East Northamptonshire Council lose, it theoretically leaves a vast number of ancient sites vulnerable to gross intrusion onto their visual settings.
On the other hand, if the developers lose it could be good news for heritage in general. Or will it be? When the decision went against them originally a spokesman for the developers said: “It would be wrong to suggest that any kind of precedent has been set on this occasion, as each wind farm application is considered on a case-by-case basis” – which sounds a bit like ” it’s always worth a try, sometimes you get lucky!”
It is now two years since the stone alignment on Bancbryn at Mynydd y Betws was identified. Those wishing to visit the area will find that a once peaceful hill now often resonates with the sound of huge industrial turbines. The whole setting is very different and the area is littered with signposts and bollards denoting the new roads which have recently been carved through a rich archaeological landscape containing three scheduled ancient monuments.
As regular readers of the Heritage Journal will be aware, for the past two years I have struggled to make sense of the original decision which permitted this seemingly important area to be desecrated. After all it was not even within an area highlight by the Welsh Government as particularly suitable for this type of development and both the archaeological agencies Cadw and Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) had opposed it. This area was known to contain important archaeology and yet permission was eventually granted subject to certain conditions being fulfilled. It was the proper fulfilment of these conditions that has however been my primary concern and formed the focus of my critiques.
Following the discovery of the stone alignment I asked that it be assessed for scheduling and enquired why it was overlooked in the first place. What followed I believe has exposed serious failings in the way that heritage protection services operate in Wales. To date only a small proportion of the issues that have emerged have been aired in the Heritage Journal and during the coming months I hope to be able to illustrate why I believe the present system is wholly unfit for purpose and failed to safeguard the archaeological interests at Bancbryn. Before examining the detail of where things went wrong it is worth remembering what all the fuss is about. After all it’s the archaeology that has suffered most.
The archaeology at Bancbryn is both important and complicated. The importance has clearly been acknowledged by the designation of three separate scheduled monuments, whilst the complexity is something that is increasingly been appreciated. A comprehensive examination of the area is still awaited and sadly those areas that have been destroyed without adequate record will necessarily remain enigmatic. A short report highlighting the different elements found at Bancbryn has been produced and can be viewed here [external link]. The report consists of a series of maps which will hopefully illustrate the nature of the surviving remains and so provide an insight into the character of the archaeology. Hopefully this will help explain, in part, why I feel the archaeological interests of this rather special place should have been looked after rather better by those responsible for its welfare.
After a week or three of pestering English Heritage before Christmas about the seeming stagnation regarding the repair of the Priddy Henge damaged by workmen representing Roger Penny, we finally received the following press release below. Apologies about the delay getting it to you, Christmas and New Year got in the way. A report on the geofizz carried out as mentioned below is also now available to read.
PRIDDY CIRCLE 1 – STATEMENT ON ARCHAEOLOGICAL MITIGATION AND REINSTATEMENT
In May 2011, large-scale unauthorised damage took place on one of the four Priddy Circles, a group of large, circular earthworks of prehistoric date which are protected as Scheduled Monuments. In October 2012, following a prosecution brought by English Heritage, the owner of Priddy Circle 1, Mr Penny, pleaded guilty to carrying out the unauthorised works. He agreed to pay for repairs to the monument and other mitigation works at a cost of around £38,000. He was also fined £2,500 by Taunton Crown Court and ordered to pay costs of £7,500.
The circle is designated and protected under the Ancient Monuments & Archaeological Areas Act 1979 and under this legislation it is a criminal offence to undertake works to a Scheduled Monument without the consent of the Secretary State (known as Scheduled Monument Consent).
In addition to a substantial fine and costs, Mr Penny signed a Voluntary Agreement committing him to funding a package of ‘reinstatement’ works, the detail of which was to be approved by English Heritage. Although we argued that some archaeological investigation should be an important part of an overall package of restorative justice works, the court was clear that the focus of the work funded by Mr Penny should be on aspects of physical reinstatement as opposed to archaeological investigation of the damaged areas.
ENGLISH HERITAGE PRESS STATEMENT
Given the national and international significance of the Priddy Circles, English Heritage felt it important that the damage caused to the monument should not be repaired without some archaeological investigation taking place. Therefore, a programme archaeological work was designed by English Heritage, focusing on the parts of the monument that had been either been damaged or disturbed. The work was commissioned to run alongside the evaluation phase of the reinstatement works, which was necessary to inform decisions on whether to restore areas of the circle that had been subject to earthmoving.
Over Spring and Summer of this year, English Heritage, together with archaeological contractors AC Archaeology, undertook a programme of assessment and evaluation, including a geophysical survey of the damaged parts of the site. The results of this work helped in the design of an archaeological excavation which was carried out in September and October 2013, and focused on an area of deep wheel-rutting caused by the creation of a track way through the site during the unauthorised works.
The fieldwork is now completed and post-excavation analysis and recording are currently underway, including the use of specialist scientific dating techniques by English Heritage at our laboratory in Portsmouth. The results will be published in due course, and it is hoped they will advance our knowledge and understanding of this rare and early monument type, in addition to helping inform management decisions for the Priddy Circles and similar monuments elsewhere.
The final part of the reinstatement works is due to take place early in the New Year, when some reconstruction of the bulldozed circle bank will take place. This is a limited piece of work with two objectives – firstly, to restore some of the form and legibility of the circle and secondly to cover over and protect important Neolithic archaeology which had been left exposed by the damage. When this work is completed, Mr Penny’s obligations under the Voluntary Agreement will have been met and the Scheduled Monument will once again be in a stable condition for posterity.
The image below was taken from the Countryside Alliance Twitter feed last week. Leaving aside the ethics of hunting, on Boxing Day or any other day of the year, let’s take a look at the morality of the situation.
Can it be considered ‘right’ to trample all over a scheduled ancient monument with a herd of large animals such as this? Let’s not forget, these barrows were the last resting place of one or more individuals’ remains. What would be the reaction if the hunt trampled through a local churchyard or municipal cemetery causing wilful damage?
Incidentally, a couple of hundred yards to the North, in full view, is Mr Penny’s handiwork on the Priddy Circles. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that people in the Priddy area would now understand the importance of not disrespecting or damaging scheduled ancient monuments? Or are they going to say they weren’t disrespecting it or causing damage and that townies and people from English Heritage don’t understand country ways?
Or is it simply that they knew it was wrong and damaging (how could they not!) but it was just too good a vantage point from which to watch a terrified animal fleeing for it’s life?
This is not something prehistoric but it IS about heritage. It’s a child’s burial stone that used to be at St Mary’s Church in Foy, Ross on Wye. The top half was stolen two years ago and the bottom half last month.
Whatever the penalty, it’s not enough.
If you have any information please contact the police on 101
The above stunt, created nine years ago by The Real Countryside Alliance at the Uffington White Horse, caused no damage but because it was unauthorised by its National Trust guardians it was deemed a bad thing.
On the other hand, the one below (promoting Big Brother in 2003) was considered a “good stunt” to start with (presumably, since the Trust accepted £2,000 for allowing it). But then, after complaints about the lack of respect for monuments and the bad example it set, their spokesman announced “we might have got this wrong”.
Then in 2012 when Paddy Power did this at Uffington it was deemed a bad stunt but not for the Big Brother “lack of respect” reason but for the Countryside Alliance “lack of permission” reason. For their part, Paddy Power dealt with criticism by donating some penance money to charity whereupon they seem to have been forgiven.
Thus it seems the “respect for monuments” complaint is sometimes but not always recognised as valid by the Trust. The latest example of that uncertainty is that the Trust has recently allowed a moustache to be added to the Cerne Abbas Giant because it was in aid of charity.
Two important questions arise: do stunts carry a risk of damaging copycatting elsewhere and if so do “charitable purposes” justify taking such a risk? It would be good if the Trust clarified their policy.
Update 28 November:
This theoretical image produced by Paul Barford raises issues of principle that would need addressing if the Trust is to formulate and publish a clear policy:
No doubt (these days) a proposal to brandalise a hill figure by a pro-hunting group would be given short shrift and the same would apply to artefact hunters (bearing in mind the Trust doesn’t allow metal detecting on it’s land). But what if it was in order to advertise a metal detecting rally “in aid of charity” (as so many are these days) – maybe even the very charity the moustache stunt was in aid of? Do the means justify the ends? Our conviction is no, in the case of both detecting rallies and brandalising, but it seems it is a matter that is yet to be fully addressed by the Trust.
Back in January of this year, I was witness to unthinking desecration by a family group at Men an Tol. I recently returned to the scene, or rather, I attempted to return to the scene. On this occasion, my path was blocked by cows grazing on the approaches to the monument. The surface damage done by the grazing cattle was much worse than that caused by the family earlier in the year.
Indeed, I’m not alone in thinking that the damage caused could have easily been avoided, were it not for poor advice from certain government departments, coupled with the greed of the owners on whose land the monument lies. Save Penwith Moors, (SPM) a local pressure group acting to campaign lawfully for the removal of all new stock proofing (fencing, gates and cattle grids) from a few selected areas of open access moorland popular for local and tourist recreation, have been keeping a daily eye on the situation at Men an Tol, and have recently issued the following Open Letter to English Heritage, Natural England, Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN), as well as the local MP for the area:
“More potential trouble at Men-an-Tol!
As at Tregeseal Circle the cattle are gathering around the stones and using the two uprights as rubbing posts as well as covering the area with heaps of dung and ruining the public right of way – virtually impassable down towards the stream – by churning it up.
This is not an isolated out of the way site – and that would be no excuse anyway – but, probably, the most popular frequented ancient monument in the Peninsula and an iconic part of Cornish Heritage. It is high time remedial action was taken after this warning message – preferably by removing grazing stock from this Croft and undertaking manual maintenance.”
The Save Penwith Moors campaign web site and Facebook page includes photographic and video evidence of the damage being caused by the ill-conceived grazing policies as instigated by Natural England and (unjustifiably) supported by English Heritage who are ultimately legally responsible for the protection of the Scheduled Ancient Monument. We would urge all our readers to visit the SPM pages and give them every support possible in their campaign against the current grazing policies.