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Part two of a guest post by Tish Farrell. In Part one, Tish outlined the background to the proposed developments at Oswestry hillfort. Here she continues the article.
The problem is, the only objections that count are those that relate to planning law. We British fondly believe that we live in the kind of democracy where – when we get around to voicing an opinion on some important matter – someone will actually listen to our argument. When it comes to planning this is not the case. Objections that relate to anything other than planning law are recorded, but ignored. Moral, academic or any other kind of indignation cuts absolutely no ice. In similar objections to housing development on the magnificent lower slopes of Caer Caradoc, Church Stretton (a hill that also has a hill fort on its summit), Euro MP, Phil Bennion, provides the public with the model they need to follow when making any kind of planning objection:
“As a former member of a County Council planning committee, I have experience of the way decisions like this are taken. It is vital that objections are made on the basis of visual impact, access and safety and sustainability.”
And of the Caer Caradoc proposals in particular:
“From viewing the site earlier, it seems clear to me that this proposal would have a significant impact on the amenity value of one of the most important landscapes in the Shropshire Hills AONB, which is of more than purely local importance. I will be objecting along these lines.”
County Councils are bound by planning law. If they cannot present a strong case as to why a particular development should not go ahead, developers will opt for a judicial review. When the latter are expecting to sell houses for up to half a million pounds, it is worth their while to hire a good barrister. Reviews cost councils a lot of money, and thus us a lot of money; it’s another reason why councils cave in before developer pressure. And then after the sticks come the carrots. More houses means more council tax for cash-strapped councils. Developers also have to pay a Community Infrastructure Levy which provides funds for much needed community projects such as play areas and car parks.
But this is not all. We are not only talking of the site allocations that we can see at this moment in time. If the Old Oswestry sites are approved, then we can be pretty sure that these developments will give precedent for further development at some point in the future – so called ribbon development, infill and all the rest of it.
So what can be done?
Firstly, it seems there will be another chance for public representation when the SAMDev Final Plan Publication document is produced at the end of 2013, so watch out for this. The link to the Shropshire Council site is given below. In the meantime, English Heritage is apparently due to meet for talks with Council and developers in December. They can be lobbied. As can councillors. Use Twitter. However, it is imperative to frame objections Phil Bennion style. So look at the Heritage Consultant’s impact assessment report in support of the development (link below). His argument is based almost entirely on the view, that THE VIEW of and from Old Oswestry will not be in any way compromised.
So I’m afraid there is no alternative. Saying we do not like something is not enough, however worthy the grounds. If we wish to protect this country’s heritage, we need to get with the planning programme. We must engage with the process at every stage, no matter how mind-numbingly boring planning speak is. For a start, everyone could join their local civic society and help build an effective campaign group. Civic Voice, a national charity, gives lots of information about planning campaigns on its website.
As 2013 comes to a close, we still have a small chance to determine how the landscape we live in will look to our children and grandchildren. And, as landscape archaeologists are beginning more and more to realise, the setting of prehistoric sites like Old Oswestry was probably as important as the function of the structure itself. These were places where communities gathered to trade, make marriages, procreate, form alliances, fight, feast, tell tales, party, pray. These people were probably much like us. They are our ancestors. We should remember them with consideration and respect – shouldn’t we?
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)
Oswestry Town Council has invited English Heritage to meet them “so we have all relevant information and views to hand”. But actually don’t they have “all the relevant information and views to hand” already? If they want to know what the public thinks they can read the Petition and if they want to know what they themselves think they can read their own past statement saying they aren’t in favour of anything that would damage the historical significance of the hill fort. And if they want to know if the development will do that they can go up there today and calculate if any of the new houses will be visible. If any will then the setting will be damaged! [Incidentally, we've found something a bit surprising about the setting. Come back here on Tuesday!]
So why would they seek further information when they have all they need? Well, they say “we need to hear first hand from English Heritage who are the national guardians of this site which has such international importance.” So it’s because EH are “national guardians”. However, they should know that EH officials are medically identifiable: hearts in the right place but arms twisted behind their backs. Yes EH is the designated Heritage Champion but it’s also the creature of its paymaster, the Government (and you know what they’re like). So if the Council thinks writing to EH will get them definitive support for no houses round the hill fort, they should beware. The ‘National Planning Policy Framework’ (by which EH is bound) has a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” (the implications of which are clear) and note the definition of conservation (of places like the hill fort) in that document. It doesn’t have the everyday meaning of “preservation”, it is defined as “the process of maintaining and managing change to a heritage asset in a way that sustains and where appropriate enhances its significance.”
So, if the Council wants to stand up for “no new houses round the hill fort” (and pass it on to the future unscathed by an ephemeral scrap of doctrinal policy that will by then be long-forgotten dust) they’d better say so plain and simple and not be persuaded to support “some new houses round the hill fort” by those clever heritage champion fellas up from that London (well Swindon probably, but London sounds more scarily authoritative!) On the other hand of course, some Councillors might secretly be in favour of putting some houses round the fort despite the fact the public is against it and are hoping to be able to say they “reluctantly accept the advice of the experts”. Salop, like Westminster and Whitehall, contains a wide range of characters.
As we reported here and here, faced with growing opposition to onshore wind farms in the UK, Tory MPs are backing a plan to outsource the production of wind power to Ireland. Turbines will be built over there using British Government subsidies and the energy will be exported back to Britain using cables running under the sea to Wales. It’s the brainchild of American company Element Power who say “the Irish have a less reactionary attitude to onshore wind turbine developments than the British.”
It has just been announced that that slightly insulting claim is going to be tested because there’s going to be a public consultation. If the Irish public don’t like the idea that’ll be the end of it. Or will it? In Britain the public’s clear wishes sometimes get ignored – hence the phrase “Oswestry democracy” – a process in which the people of Oswestry have given a resounding “no” to building next to a hill fort and Shropshire Council is acting as if they’d said yes.
There are indications that the die is now cast in Ireland whatever the public says. Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte has just said “the views of local communities must be at the heart of the transition to renewable energy” – “at the heart of the transition”, note, not “at the heart of the decision”. It’s ironic that this is about to happen in Ireland to supply Britain’s energy needs just at the moment when the British have decided to step away from such things at home and Energy Minister Greg Barker has stated that the rush to develop on-shore wind farms is “over” as “They have turned public opinion against renewable energy” and “We put certain projects in the wrong place” and “We are very clear about the need to limit the impact on the countryside and landscape” and “future wind farms will be developed off-shore”.
Well, Ireland is certainly off-shore! How fortunate Britain has always treated the population of Ireland well else people might think we’re doing something duplicitous!
Last week we highlighted the eloquent words of National Trust chairman Sir Simon Jenkins (“Our glorious land in peril”) about his fears for the future of our countryside under the impact of the “presumption in favour of sustainable development” which he describes as “the most philistine concept in planning history”.
This week Sir Andrew Motion, chairman of the Campaign to Protect Rural England was equally eloquent and we highlight some of what he said below. Once again we make no apology for featuring a plea for the countryside on a website that is concerned with ancient monuments since damage to the one so often involves damage to the other as has often been seen.
.“The English countryside is our great collective masterpiece – and any development that needlessly damages it is an act of vandalism….the Coalition’s controversial changes to the planning system have created an atmosphere where all development is seen as good development…. When even our protected countryside is at risk, what hope is there for our unprotected but equally loved ‘ordinary’ countryside? ….. David Cameron has previously been at pains to emphasise that National Parks and AONBs are safe from the planning reforms, which ripped up hundreds of pages of protections…. However, the CPRE has warned of a surge in the number of applications to build in national parks, AONBs and locally valued landscapes after the relaxation of planning rules. ”
by Sandy Gerrard
For nearly two years I have been writing about the wind farm development at Mynydd y Betws. Some shortcomings in the actions of the various agencies who are supposed to ensure that archaeological interests were safeguarded have been highlighted. The newly updated Google Map for the area illustrates the effect on the scheduled archaeology within the area better than words alone.
There are eight scheduled monuments scattered over the mountain and the landscape in which they sit has been altered significantly. The aerial perspective provides a clear insight into the impact of the development and demonstrates the true scale of this venture. The landscape has been carved up and whilst scheduling has safeguarded the physical remains within the scheduled areas their context has been injured and many associated deposits destroyed. In addition to the scheduled archaeology there is a wide array of archaeological remains which have no protection. Some of these have been obliterated and others damaged. This wind farm has been built within a rich archaeological landscape whose integrity has inevitably been compromised.
In recent months there has been much discussion in the press regarding the impact of wind farm developments on the setting of monuments. Most recently Simon Thurley (Chief Executive, English Heritage) stated that the biggest challenge is “to find ways to stop the erection of wind farms and other eyesores from obscuring historic buildings and monuments”. This comment emphasises the difficulties in establishing ground rules for setting. The developers heritage consultants at Mynydd y Betws believed that the setting of a cairn would not be significantly affected beyond 10 – 15 metres, whilst Cadw believe that the setting of an historic garden will be affected by turbines over 2km away and at Thackson’s Well the planners agreed that proposed turbines 11km from the Grade I listed house would have an unacceptable impact on the setting.
Clearly it is going to be difficult to find a single answer. Perhaps the setting is not related to the distance but rather to the type of site affected. A Grade I building might perhaps require a bigger buffer zone than say a cairn or stone circle. These are discussions that we probably should already have resolved since Mynydd y Betws clearly demonstrates what will happen if we do not grasp this nettle firmly.
Finally, a question: does the Bancbryn cairn cemetery within the Mynydd y Betws wind farm have the dubious honour of being the closest scheduled monument to a turbine? The monument is 72m from the 110m high turbine and is certainly within the “impact zone” should the worst happen. Do you know of any other scheduled monuments that are closer?
For all previous and subsequent articles put Mynydd Y Betws in our Search Box.
A guest article by Christopher Strickland, an American expat living in Britain for the last 10 years.
Having read Environment Secretary Owen Paterson’s plan to let developers build in National Parks and compensate for the damage they cause through “biodiversity offsetting” elsewhere (“Beware the Paterwock my son“) I find it astonishing and frightening. It is typical of the thought process of developers though. The only line they see is not a timeline, but the bottom line …of their profit margin.
This proposal not only flouts the efforts of so many past and present who have devoted their time and resources to the purpose of setting aside special areas to preserve them because of their uniqueness and beauty for posterity, but it also undermines the very spirit of the law which created these sanctuaries and heritage sites. If I steal a persons wallet in London, take their money and give a few pounds of it away to a person living in York…how is that fair and justifiable? It is still a crime against the person in London.
If developers win….every person who lives in Britain that enjoys the use of these special places will lose…including all future generations yet unborn. This MUST be voted down if it ever rears its ugly head in parliament. It defies common sense…in every way. Mr. Paterson is a good example of a politician who cares nothing for the greater good of Britain and its people, but only for his personal job record at appeasing special interest groups who are well-heeled and unscrupulous in their approach to “progress”.
Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!
…. and while you’re at it, beware Environment Secretary Owen Paterson! His latest idea (in a growing list of Government proposals to allow planning rules to be circumvented) is for developers to be allowed to build in national parks if they make up for the damage elsewhere. It’s called “biodiversity offsetting” but as Friends of the Earth have pointed out “Nature is unique and complex – not something that can be bulldozed in one place and recreated in another at the whim of a developer”
Not that Mr Paterson or Planning Minister Nick Boles are likely to listen. They plan to let farmers sell “conservation credits” to developers who need to offset the environmental damage they do elsewhere – so they’ll get lots of support for the scheme. (It’s becoming a familiar theme, giving developers what they want by oiling the wheels with local incentives!)
All of this has an additional hidden danger that Mr Paterson hasn’t mentioned. If Wimpeys destroy a wildlife meadow in Cumbria they can replace it (sort of) by creating another one in Devon, but what if their development also damages the setting of a heritage site (as may sometimes happen)? There’s no way there can be a “Heritage Offsetting Scheme” so what Mr Paterson damages will stay damaged.
by Sandy Gerrard
Well indeed what did actually happen at Mynydd y Betws? Information released under the Freedom of Information Act together with published accounts suggest that it might have gone something like this:
1. Produce a Method Statement that fails to mention or even refer to the site under consideration.
2. Take a digger, mechanically strip the deposits and clean up the residue.
3. Publish a brief report. Do not include any photographs or drawings.
4. Ignore all known information about the area and instead conclude that it is probably a unique form of waymarker. Unique because it does not look like any known waymarker and could never have functioned as such because it would have soon been hidden by growing vegetation!
4. Forget, overlook, ignore or fail to look for all the appropriate regional and national parallels. Instead state that the alignment …“is sinuous in form which is not typical for prehistoric ceremonial/ritual stone alignments”
5. Do not address the fact that many Dartmoor rows are also sinuous in form and most are far from straight.
For all previous and subsequent articles put Mynydd Y Betws in our Search Box.
It’s obvious, even from space, there’s no need to extend Oswestry towards the Hill Fort, except to make money for someone.
Yet the Council persists, using every old chestnut in the book…
There’s the tactic, as ancient as humanity, of asking for more than you want – hence the proud announcement that discussions with English Heritage have resulted in “a significant reduction in the scale of development“. In other words be grateful it’s not worse. The Ministry of Transport used that habitually 3 decades ago – “look, one of our rejected options for the new road was straight through your houses!”
They’ve also tried the “It’s for the good of the victim” approach perfected by mining company and self-proclaimed enviro-saints Tarmac plc at Thornborough Henges, suggesting the development could provide “a vast improvement to access and parking at the Hillfort” and the never missing appeal to the pocket of the locals: “which can only be good news for the site and the wider visitor economy of Oswestry.”
All three tactics pretty much insult the intelligence of the listeners – for take another close look at the satellite view. It really doesn’t need doing just there, does it? Except to make money for someone. Diana Baur has penned a letter that expresses the reality so clearly that it’s worth reproducing here:
“English Heritage is a government funded organisation and the government have housing targets. Discussions between English Heritage and the “promoter of building sites” will be a one-sided discussion. It will not be democratic and so is unlikely to be in in the interests of the people of Oswestry.
The very fact that some “scaling back” of the plans has apparently already taken place suggests that the voice of reason might just have peeked its head over the parapet.
The trouble is the voice of reason is cloaked and choked by the gods of “profit” and “targets” and “self-interest”- gods that currently stalk the corridors of council chambers and Whitehall itself.
If we are to walk tall into a new post-industrial age leaning heavily upon the goddesses of “community” and “common sense”, then we need more than just a scaling back. We need a whole new outlook on what is valuable in life.
The rampant gambling that led to the crash of 2008 is still going on. We don’t need a bit of “tweaking at the edges”. There needs to be a complete change of heart. The hillfort represents one of those extremely valuable things that makes life worth living and that must be preserved.”