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A pre-election change in Government policy offers hope that the setting of Oswestry Hill Fort and much else might be saved at the eleventh hour.

Already Eric Pickles has been over-ruling many of his own inspectors. blocking many wind farms and solar parks that would otherwise have gone through, but there’s more. As William Cash, Shropshire resident and UKIP heritage spokesman (no, we’re not promoting UKIP!) says in the New Statesman:   “the Tories are pledging – just eight months from the election and well over two years after the NPPF ripped up 50 years of planning law – to save England from being concreted over through a new green “shield” across the greenbelt. According to the Telegraph, the new guidance states that councils are no longer required to “sacrifice” greenbelt land in order to meet new five-year housing targets.”

If true that could put into reverse all that’s been happening at Oswestry and many other places where towns have been faced with a loophole in the NPPF in which if targets aren’t met developers can build where they like – including greenbelt land. Maybe that era is over and Oswestry Hill Fort and other places will be reprieved. We’ll soon know.

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Clearing her throat?

Clearing her throat?

 

We were going to write just this…..

Since the Government’s intentions about the A303 at Stonehenge aren’t yet made public we have to make do with 2 verbal clues:

  • “We are discussing a range of potential options. So, a range of options,  not all of them. We can safely assume that the “long tunnel” option isn’t being discussed as it’s missing from the published list of options.
  • “we have worked closely with key organisations, including English Heritage and the National Trust”. So, the only two heritage organisations mentioned as being “worked closely with” are one that supported the short tunnel last time and one that didn’t but is strongly rumoured to be prepared to reverse its stance if its land isn’t touched.

So who’d bet against a short tunnel? And aren’t these words pretty slippery:

  • No investment decisions have been made”. But if the long tunnel is missing from the list of options the biggest investment decision has been made. The Autumn Statement will specify  the short tunnel no doubt and the only faint hope for avoiding it thereafter will be if all those organisations who opposed it so passionately last time unite to do so again. It would be ironic if the organisation with the watchword “forever, for everyone” broke ranks and agreed to the damage.

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But now we have to write this….

It has been revealed in the Financial Times that English Heritage and the National Trust are both willing to support a short tunnel. It won’t encroach on their land, it will threaten any number of monuments and damage any number of monument settings within the World Heritage Site and it does offer the opportunity to expand an enclosed theme park.

You might very well think that any conservation bodies worthy of the name would fight like tigers (for a very long time, and in public)  for a long tunnel – since one takes donations to stand up for special places “forever, for everyone” and the other takes taxpayers’ money to be England’s official “heritage champion”, but you’d be wrong, evidently. It’s notable though that both have successfully defended their own patches. So it’s an awful day for the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and a much better one for NT and EH.

But here’s the bit that will stay on their respective records forever:

Officials close to the minister say it is “highly significant” that the National Trust and English Heritage are both willing to support a tunnel…..

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Here’s the National Trust Press Office’s attempt to justify the organisation’s craven abdication of its moral duty to everyone who ever sent it money http://ntpressoffice.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/national-trust-statement-on-stonehenge-tunnel-proposal/

(A remarkably similar statement can be expected from the English Heritage Press Office shortly!)

The deputy Prime Minister has just said he wants the Government to sanction plans to rebuild the A303 before the next election. Since the 3 options just published for the Stonehenge section consist of 2 versions of a short tunnel plus an unrealistic northern bypass – and no long tunnel – it seems likely that what he is effectively pressing for is a short tunnel. As for the timing, he says he very much hopes we can see “diggers in the ground” well before 2017/18.
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Hindhead

Here are a couple of questions about what’s some would see as a looming World Heritage Scandal:
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First, we previously wrote to English Heritage asking what they meant when they said they’d argue for the tunnel “with all our strength” - a long one or a short one? In April they replied:
It is not possible to comment on this, or provide documentation that supports a decision regarding which scheme English Heritage would support, for the simple reason that we have not yet been presented with scheme options to advise upon. When DfT presents us with their potential scheme options, then we will be able to advise upon their heritage impacts and relative merits.
Well, the options have now been published (sans a “long tunnel”) and the Stonehenge Alliance, for one, has made a formal response. Will English Heritage now clarify their position and will they, like the Stonehenge Alliance has done, call for the “long tunnel” option to be reinstated as an option on the grounds that the other options are hugely damaging to the World Heritage Site they are charged with protecting?
(If you’re an EH member, or just interested, you might care to ask them yourself –  http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/about/contact-us/ )
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Second, there’s a nasty rumour that the National Trust might reverse its previous opposition to a short tunnel (bearing in mind that this time it won’t involve any digging on that portion of the World Heritage Site that’s theirs.)
(If you’re an NT member, or just interested, you might care to ask them yourself – http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/contact-us/. )
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Alternatively, the Campaign for Better Transport (a member of the Stonehenge Alliance, alongside the Ancient Sacred Landscape Network, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth, and RESCUE: The British Archaeological Trust) has issued this plea:
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 If a new dual carriageway is to be built, then the Stonehenge Alliance believes that a minimum tunnel length of 4.5km is what is needed to avoid further damaging the Site. It would show that the Government is serious about looking after our heritage and what makes Britain special.
If you agree that Stonehenge is special, you might like to support our call by writing to the Secretary of State, asking that if a new road is going to be constructed, it should be in a tunnel at least 4.5km long.  Thank you.

Regular readers will know that for years we’ve been worrying that the Government will impose a cheap short tunnel (with damaging cuttings at each end) on the Stonehenge World Heritage Site – and thus go back to the solution opposed by almost every archaeological and heritage organisation but cancelled only because of the credit crunch. Now it looks as if this highly damaging spectre has risen again with two short tunnel options being discussed, with the only other option said to be a northern bypass. (The latter sounds so impractical, disruptive, damaging and expensive it’s hard to believe anyone is serious about it. Could it be a mere “Aunt Sally” option, set up to be universally rejected to give the impression the public has been involved in a choice?)

We know there is a traffic problem and a solution has to be found to combat the misery of the A303. But here’s the thing: last time, nearly everyone said the short tunnel option was unacceptable. How then can it now be acceptable, particularly when Professor Vince Gaffney and others have now discovered hundreds of new features within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site? How would access roads to a short tunnel be fitted between those?

Here is a letter just sent to the Government by the Stonehenge Alliance:

THE STONEHENGE ALLIANCE

From the Chairman, George McDonic, MBE, BL, DIPLTP, FRTPI, DPA, FFB
To  The Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP,  Secretary of State for Transport
Sent by email on 3 October, 2014

Dear Secretary of State,

Proposals for the A303 at Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Alliance* is a group of non-Government organisations and individuals originally formed in 2001 which maintains a watch over any major new development that would adversely impact on the World Heritage Site (WHS). We are writing to request your intervention in the current process concerning proposed road improvements affecting the site.

The A303 is currently one of six identified road corridors subject to feasibility studies to examine possible improvements. It is most regrettable that this process has focused on road improvements rather than on considering more sustainable transport alternatives.  We have grave concerns about the impacts that the proposed road options might have on the WHS.

Stonehenge is an iconic symbol of Britain’s past people and culture.  It is a significant draw both nationally and internationally and important culturally and economically. Yet as important as the Stones are, it is their context, the surrounding landscape, which helps make them so special. This is recognised in the designation of the Stonehenge WHS which covers nearly 27 square kilometres. The importance of the surrounding landscape was highlighted in the recent BBC TV Operation Stonehenge series which identified numerous new sites in the wider WHS area.

At the last Corridor Feasibility Study Reference Group, a bored tunnel between 2.5 and 2.9km long as well as a northern trunk road diversion, were proposed for the A303 at Stonehenge for further investigation, while a request for a long bored tunnel of at least 4.5km to be costed was dismissed outright. All of the options now under consideration for the A303 at Stonehenge could inflict severe and irreversible damage upon the WHS and its setting and might well lead to the WHS being considered for the World Heritage in Danger List.  A longer tunnel would avoid this.

The current approach appears to be pursuing options contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework and at odds with advice from UNESCO and, notably, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in its Guidance on Heritage Impact Assessments for Cultural World Heritage Properties (2011).

We urge you to intervene in the study to ensure that a long bored tunnel of at least 4.5km (for which Highways Agency drawings were done c.2001) be examined and costed alongside the shorter tunnel option already put forward by the Corridor Feasibility Study Reference Group. There is real concern about the haste in which the study is being progressed and we request that greater time for consultation and engagement is taken in order to safeguard this iconic cultural asset.

I look forward to your reply.
Yours sincerely,
George McDonic, Chairman, the Stonehenge Alliance

Copies to:  Baroness Kramer, Minister of State for Transport,
Rt. Hon. John Hayes MP, Minister for Roads,
Julian Glover, Special Adviser,
Mary Creagh MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport,
Richard Burden MP, Shadow Minister for Roads,
John Glen, MP for Salisbury,
Claire Perry, MP for Devizes,
Sir Simon Jenkins, Chairman, The National Trust,
Dame Helen Ghosh, Director General,The National Trust,
Simon Thurley, Chief Executive, English Heritage,
Susan Denyer, Secretary, ICOMOS-UK,
Petya Totcharova, Head of Europe and North America Unit, UNESCO World Heritage Centre,
Dr Mike Heyworth, Director, Council for British Archaeology,
Alistair Sommerlad, Chairman, Stonehenge and Avebury WHS Partnership Panel

by Sandy Gerrard

According to the Scottish Government the economic impact of the historic environment to the Scottish economy is £2.3 billion annually. I am not sure how the figure was calculated but it must have some basis in fact. Heritage is important for a whole lot of reasons but we now know that it also has a monetary value as well.

It therefore follows that any loss of heritage costs us all real money as well as opportunities. This should surely be taken into account when decisions regarding heritage are taken. The British Isles has a fantastic range of distinctive archaeological and architectural heritage which underpins our cultural identity and also helpfully ticks the money earner box.

Archaeology provides tangible economic benefits

Archaeology provides tangible economic benefits

We should take care of this golden goose and give heritage the protection it deserves. A healthy society appreciates it’s past, thrives on the present and plans sensitively for the future.

There was an interesting statement by a planning inspector recently:

“The information submitted in support of the application includes reference to an annual financial contribution (£3,000), being made available from the income generated by the proposed wind turbine, for community projects.
Even if this was a matter that I could properly consider there is no mechanism in place to secure any such payment. I have not therefore taken it into account in determining the appeal.”

It seems the reason he ignored the “community bribe” was that there was no mechanism to guarantee it would be paid – but if there had been we can be pretty confident he would have been influenced by it. Such payments are commonplace these days and since the basis of decisions is to balance damage with public benefit, inspectors can hardly not take them into account. So if you’re a cynic (which some of us realists are accused of being) you could say that if you have deep enough pockets you can buy the democratic decisions you desire. Indeed, you could claim the situation is unchanged since the era of the Rotten Boroughs where you could pay locals to vote for you.  In planning terms it’s a case of “have money, can develop” and we can all point to likely instances of that.

There’s a major defect in the thinking though. Yes, the locals might get a new Community Hall if a development goes ahead – which is a great benefit from the local perspective but what about the national perspective? Is damage to a nationally important scheduled monument made more acceptable nationally by the fact some locals at say, Upton Snodsbury, will be able to have their barn dances without the roof leaking? Probably not!

In addition of course, some incentives aren’t worth the paper they aren’t written on. Four years ago the northern setting of Avebury’s henge was badly damaged by a housing development…..

Todays Northern Approach

…… amid talk that the locals would at least be compensated by the provision of affordable housing elsewhere in the area, which would mean young people needn’t leave the village. Anyone seen those?

by Sandy Gerrard

The Planning Inspectorate in Wales has recently rejected an application to erect three wind turbines at Bedlinog on the edge of an area containing a large number of multi-period archaeological sites. Most significantly the main reason given for the decision is the impact the development would have had on the historic environment.  Indeed this concern is eloquently expressed so: the introduction of very large modern moving structures into a landscape which had not significantly changed since the pre-industrial age would cause significant and extensive harm.”

Hooray. The landscape that is going to be protected is very similar in character to the one at Mynydd y Betws.  Essentially it is a multi-period palimpsest some of which is scheduled. There are however also some important differences:
> The nearest scheduled site would have been 570m from a turbine rather than the 72m at Mynydd y Betws
> Three turbines were proposed rather than fifteen.
> The turbines were to be built on enclosed land near to the moorland rather than on the moorland itself.
> The turbines were to be built to one side of the archaeology rather than in its midst.

When the Planning Inspectorate considered the Mynydd y Betws proposal, where the impact of the proposed scheme was considerably more intrusive and damaging to the historic environment than at Bedlinog they stated:
“The turbines would be large man made features of far greater scale than anything which currently exists. However they would be, if allowed, by their nature a temporary feature with a permission for 25 years.”
“the effect on the setting of those Monuments within the site, whether they are burial cairns or more recent upland farmsteads, would not be unacceptably harmful.”

Hopefully this radical change of heart means that in just a few short years and on the back of the lessons learnt at Mynydd y Betws the desecration of irreplaceable archaeological landscapes is no longer to be tolerated.  Certainly this decision should help those fighting to safeguard our heritage and should be warmly welcomed by everyone with an interest in our uplands.

“the introduction of very large modern moving structures into a landscape which had not significantly changed since the pre-industrial age would cause significant and extensive harm.”  Planning Inspectorate (2014).  An example of significant and extensive harm at Mynydd y Betws.

“the introduction of very large modern moving structures into a landscape which had not significantly changed since the pre-industrial age would cause significant and extensive harm.” Planning Inspectorate (2014). An example of significant and extensive harm at Mynydd y Betws.

cide

Remember “Cider with Rosie no more?” last year? As we said at the time: “If you’ve been there, you’ll know it’s hardly an exaggeration to say that building 150 new houses at the entrance to the Slad Valley near Stroud in Gloucestershire would be one of the most vandalistic actions that could be committed in the whole of rural England. Not just because it is an incomparable Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but also because it was immortalised by Laurie Lee in Cider with Rosie”.

Well, just sometimes in this game things go right, money doesn’t win, the community does and it looks as if it’s happened there. “Only a bit of pottery” had been found in the developers’ trial trench, they announced to the world, carefully avoiding the fact they were keen to drive their greedy bulldozers straight into the spirit of a jewel of English literature. Stroud District Council told them to go to Hell or something like that but more polite. Undeterred, they appealed but now it has just been announced the appeal has been dismissed by a planning inspector!

Celebrations to mark the centenary of Laurie Lee’s birth have been just been taking place and this news has come as an ideal climax. In the words of Andy Dickinson of the Slad Valley Action Group, it was a “fabulous result” and “gives us real hope to preserve the valley for the future.”

If you’re in a Planning Department and you’re going to let a utility company dig up a probable archaeological site without making provision for an archaeological watching brief, it’s best not to do it at the end of the street in which the Director of the Council for British Archaeology lives. The danger being, he might trudge home after a long, hot day in the office and spot some pottery and the fragments of a Roman era leg bone and a jawbone with teeth in it lying on a pile of soil…  Which is exactly the nightmare that happened recently up in in York !

nightmare

Dr Heyworth said the incident shows up the “black holes” that are appearing in local authority archaeology services, with planners taking decisions without any specialist advice. He notified both the police to inform them that human remains had been discovered and the local authority, and work has now been suspended while an archaeologist investigates the site.

The worrying aspect is that not every street has a Dr Heyworth living in it so it’s a moot point how many similar issues go unnoticed up and down the country. Coincidentally, EH has just revealed that the number of archaeological specialists in local authorities has declined by 9.5% in the past year. The full report is HERE.

For years the Government has facilitated the targeting of large areas of green space (including heritage site settings) for housing development on the basis that there is insufficient usable brownfield land. (Many people suspect that the real reason has more to do with the “advice” they’ve been getting from the big builders who coincidentally can make far bigger profits by building in picturesque locations. Who knows)

Lately the Government seems to be coming round to the idea that there ARE such sites but it remains vague about how many. Now the CPRE has launched an interesting campaign to establish and demonstrate to them just how many usable yet undeveloped brownfield sites and buildings are going to waste across England. As they put it: ever helpful, we want to show them just how much potential there is”. Accordingly they’re asking the general public to nominate suitable brownfield sites that may have been overlooked in official plans and submit them for inclusion in the CPRE’s ‘WasteOfSpace’ map of England.

If you know of one (or more!) please send them a photo, ideally with a short description and an address or postcode. You can send the image by:

  • emailing wasteofspace@cpre.org.uk
  • tweeting @CPRE with the campaign hashtag #WasteOfSpace
  • posting to the Facebook group #WasteOfSpace

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