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.

…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?

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?

Links: http://shropshire.gov.uk/planningpolicy.nsf/viewAttachments/EWET-9B3J68/$file/Oswestry-area-samdev-revised-preferred-options-report-2013.pdf

http://shropshire.gov.uk/planningpolicy.nsf/viewAttachments/EWET-9B3J68/$file/Oswestry-hillfort-heritage-impact-assessment-14-8-13.pdf

Tish Farrell is a writer, lapsed prehistorian, and haphazard tweeter who lives in Much Wenlock, Shropshire.