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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……

del

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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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.

scissorman

Snip! Snap! Snip! the scissors go;
And Conrad cries out – Oh! Oh! Oh!
Snip! Snap! Snip! They go so fast;
That both his thumbs are off at last.

Some say “The Scissorman” is a real person. Others that he is merely being used as a literary device to represent The Profit Motive. Who knows? All that is certain is that whatever anyone tells you in posh technical language what’s really happening at Oswestry is a fight between those who want to conserve History and those who want to make a personal profit, the bigger the better. Yet how can one know that’s true when it’s easy to photograph History but impossible to photograph The Profit Motive?

Or is it?

Balfarg Henge

That’s Balfarg Henge, Fife in the middle. The rest is The Profit Motive.

No, Oswestry Hill Fort isn’t going to look like that, not imminently anyway. (So no claims we’re spreading misinformation or using scare tactics please, we’re just showing how ruthless Money can be if left unopposed). What is yet to be revealed is the degree of success the Campaigners will have in preventing the Hill Fort looking anything like that. Half as bad or a tenth as bad would be an outrage. Yet The Profit Motive has given zero indication it gives a damn about History or is willing to exercise self-restraint – it would simply walk away if it did – so it all depends on the strength of those who believe the Hill Fort’s current setting should be kept entirely sacrosanct.

Diana Baur, (one of the  Oswestry campaigners)  sent us a comment yesterday that reminded us of The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb….

The great tall tailor always comes
To little boys that suck their thumbs.
And ere they dream what he’s about
He takes his great sharp scissors
And cuts their thumbs clean off, – and then
You know, they never grow again.

Mamma had scarcely turn’d her back,
The thumb was in, alack! alack!
The door flew open, in he ran,
The great, long, red-legged scissorman.
Oh! children, see! the tailor’s come
And caught our little Suck-a-Thumb.

Snip! Snap! Snip! the scissors go;
And Conrad cries out – Oh! Oh! Oh!
Snip! Snap! Snip! They go so fast;
That both his thumbs are off at last.
Mamma comes home; there Conrad stands,
And looks quite sad, and shows his hands;-
“Ah!” said Mamma “I knew he’d come
To naughty little Suck-a-Thumb.”

It seems likely that if we all suck our thumbs the scissor man WILL cut off part of Oswestry Hill Fort’s setting.  Snip snap snip!  And it will never grow back. As Diana makes clear ….

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The “Jaws” of development snapping all around us! Snapping everywhere unfettered in all directions because, as Owen Paterson [who is Oswestry's  MP and also Government's Environment Secretary!] has again re-iterated in a second letter to me, in respect of the Old Oswestry Hillfort , and I quote: “I know just how important this issue is. I hope you will understand that neither Minister nor Government officials can intervene or comment on individual planning applications because of Ministers’ quasi-judicial role in the system”.

So what in heaven’s name actually IS his, or ARE ministers’ roles??
In respect of the Old Oswestry Hillfort we are not yet talking about a planning application, we are talking about whether or not the hillfort setting will be allowed to be desecrated in the SAMDEV process which involves satisfying Government targets on covering this land with ticky tacky 4 and 5 bedroom houses in prestigious places kick-starting the economy through the housing market and charging onwards into a housing boom bubble and bust that will mean first time buyers are even less likely to be able to afford to buy one.

We are now being invited by Shropshire Planning department to submit our views on the SAMDEV process a second time round via the Shropshire Council Website, but expressly to comment on the “soundness” of the idea of using the hillfort setting for housing development. It’s patently unsound on all fronts, but we are still waiting to hear what exactly they mean by “soundness” – it’s Alice in Wonderland talk where you will think you have answered the question, but will be hauled over the coals by the Red Queen for not so doing because you have no “understanding” of the question.

I looked up the definition of “sound” and the adjectives, of which there are many and include:

1. free from damage, injury, decay, etc
2. firm; solid; substantial: a sound basis
3. financially safe or stable: a sound investment
4. showing good judgment or reasoning; sensible; wise: sound advice
5. valid, logical, or justifiable: a sound argument
6. holding approved beliefs; ethically correct; upright; honest
7. (of sleep) deep; peaceful; unbroken
8. thorough; complete: a sound examination
9. informal ( Brit ) excellent
10. law (of a title, etc) free from defect; legally valid
11. constituting a valid and justifiable application of correct principles; orthodox: sound theology
12. logic
a. (of a deductive argument) valid
b. (of an inductive argument) according with whatever principles ensure the high probability of the truth of the conclusion given the truth of the premises
c. another word for consistent

From my point of view building on the setting of the Old Oswestry Hillfort is a completely unsound idea on all fronts.

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?

Q and As

UPDATE: Fat lady is still silent, This from John Waine who represented the campaign at the Shropshire Council meeting this morning.

“Sadly and ashamedly Shropshire Council, or more specifically, Malcolm Price, has decided to ignore the decision and views of Oswestry Town Council and English Heritage and include OSW004 in their SAMDev plan. THE FIGHT GOES ON!!!”

Please see this…..

A couple of days ago a Government spokesman (let’s call him Dominic Fibber of Winchester, Balliol, White’s and Wimpey’s) told BBC News:

“Strong protections are in place for the Green Belt, ancient woodland, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and many other countryside and heritage treasures, such as World Heritage Sites. The national planning framework also puts power back into the hands of local people, ensuring they are in charge of deciding the areas they wish to see developed and those to be protected.”

Providing, that is, they fight like tigers, learn the planning system at breakneck speed, and get the support of top-notch experts to counter every spin and falsehood that’s put up. And even that’s not enough in the vast majority of cases, not unless the proposal is such an obvious, blatant, unforgivable assault on communal ownership that even it’s supporters eventually see it as shameful. Unless they are shameless.

Fat lady

Fantastic news, so far. Oswestry Town Council has now published its official statement based on Tuesday’s vote. This forms the basis of a letter they have sent to Shropshire Council ahead of today’s full Shropshire Council meeting  on the draft SAMDev plan. It confirms they now oppose all three housing proposals adjacent to the hill fort.

Site OSW004 – part – Land off Whittington Road
“At our meeting last evening, acknowledging the revised view of English Heritage and also the various professional submissions and viewpoint on this matter, the Town Council now oppose the inclusion of OSW004 and formally request its removal.
General Matter

The Council would ask Shropshire Council for a commitment following SAMDev to look to develop planning guidance for the Hillfort and its surrounds for the future bringing together interested agencies to formulate a strategy and policies looking to the historical and archaeological protection and promotion of the site.”

So now it’s down to Shropshire Council, meeting at 10.00am this morning…..

Whatever the claims to the contrary, all the reasons why two areas of potential residential development have been dropped also apply to the third – as has been eloquently shown by the campaigners’ and their refreshingly adequately qualified experts. So let’s hope that logic prevails and it too can become history. It may be a desperate fight though ….

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good cheer

Often when the public are concerned about an application to build near a monument there’s a remarkable absence of clear illustrations of what the development will look like. Lots of words, yes, but no pictures. Take a large Scheduled Monument and the hinterland around it, north of Oswestry – you’d think Shropshire Council (“championing the needs of residents and putting their interests first“) would have published nice pictures of that sort.

But no. So to help them, here’s one that someone put together and sent us:

Osfunnything

It would be good if they now put links to it on their front page. Why wouldn’t they? Now THERE’S an interesting question. Why wouldn’t they?

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[Image credit: HOOOH]

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