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Today’s article is by Andrew Heaton, the second respondent to our recent request for contributions to the Journal. (You are welcome to be the third!). He highlights a threat to a section of Offa’s Dyke. It’s not far from Oswestry Hill Fort (enough said!) You may also recall that another section of the Dyke suffered criminal damage recently. This time though the threat is legal.

[Please note that all articles by Guest Bloggers express their own views and perceptions which may or may not correspond with our own.]

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Turmoil in Trefonen
by Andrew Heaton

There’s turmoil in Trefonen ! Under the guise of the ‘emerging SAMdev plan’, a property developer has applied for permission to build 12 homes in a field in Trefonen – a field that contains a section of nationally important and internationally renowned Offa’s Dyke. The planned development is within the setting of the Scheduled Ancient Monument and the plans show the nearest proposed house being only about 90 metres from the scheduled area and a mere 20 metres from the closest extant length. Large lengths of Offa’s Dyke were scheduled a long time ago before the importance of the less dramatic lengths was recognised and therefore this proposed housing development may be adjacent to nationally important archaeology which is not protected simply because it has not been assessed.

Clwyd & Powys Archaeological Trust (CPAT) have displayed on their website,‘Conservation Statement Offa’s Dyke ‘Conservation Statement Offa’s Dyke’’; it refers to this section of the Dyke as it heads North from Trefonen as “the monument becomes more impressive and continuous”! Not impressive enough for English Heritage it would seem !

Conceptual plan of the  development – note the close proximity of the Dyke.  As may be clearly seen, walkers on the Dyke Trail Footpath, will not have such a good view of the Dyke.

Conceptual plan of the development – .note the close proximity of the Dyke –  the closest section is just 20 metres away.

In the past, English Heritage have stated that the likelihood of finds in this field to be high. The proposed development site contains a number of potentially important archaeological features and remains, including earthworks of different dates and an ancient stone hedge. To the best of my knowledge there have been no exploratory investigations and currently, no heritage impact assessment report is available. It is clearly essential that such work should be conducted before a planning decision is taken otherwise really important archaeology could be destroyed.

The ‘emerging SAMdev plan’, enables developers to put in applications for building, on hitherto protected pieces of land. As a result of the lack of a five-year supply, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) “presumption in favour of sustainable development” is now the main planning policy consideration in determining the application. The Planning, design & access Statement may be seen here.

The ‘advice’ from English Heritage with regard to this site is as follows :
‘The application area is within about 100 metres of a well preserved upstanding and scheduled section of Offa’s Dyke, national monument no 1006262. I made a pre-application site visit to the site, accompanied by the applicant’s agent on 16th January 2014 and subsequently confirm that English Heritage does not object to this application in principle. Following numerous objection comments made to the local authority and forwarded to English Heritage, we made a further site visit on 10th March and this has not resulted in changes to our view”.

I’m astounded that English Heritage should take this stance. Planning Policy Statement 5 (Development Management page 8) Policy HE9 Additional Policy principles Guiding the Consideration of Applications for Consent relating to designated Heritage Assets states that :
“There should be a presumption in favour of the conservation of designated heritage assets, the more significant the asset, the greater the presumption in favour of its conservation should be. Once lost, heritage assets cannot be replaced and their loss has a cultural, environmental, economic and social impact. ‘Significance’ can be harmed or lost through alteration or destruction of the heritage asset or development within its setting”. When substantial harm to or loss of significance is a corollary of development, the policy states “local planning authorities should refuse consent”.

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Developments within Trefonen during the past 15 years or so have already impacted not only upon the Scheduled Monument (Offa’s Dyke) itself, but also the Offa’s Dyke footpath which has effectively been corralled into a corridor between houses. The monument is of national importance, and the attitude that has been taken by landowners/developers and the lack of control exercised on the development impacts by the Local Planning Authority are both outrageous.

Although the Dyke eventually flattens out in this field, its ditch will survive well and probably contains important and unique archaeological information together with invaluable environmental data. The physical essential form also continues down the length of Chapel Lane, where it has been built on by properties. But these sit at a raised level and allow the line and form of the Dyke to be visualised as a continuation of the linear feature when viewed from both the Offa’s Dyke Trail to the West and the main Oswestry road to the East. Originally, the Dyke ran behind Church View & Meadowlea, where the proposal has new houses and garages.

English Heritage cited the importance of this linear visual attribute, when considering recent (November 2013) Planning Application for a single dwelling just 500m from the nearby application site Ref. 13/01025/FUL, which was refused permission to be built. The proposed development is for 12 dwellings and in a more prominent position than the one refused – directly between Offa’s Dyke & Offa’s Dyke Trail Path. Yet this time, there are no objections from English Heritage. Where’s the consistency ? How may 12 dwellings have less of an impact than one ?

The proposed development is on a site of historical interest. Apart from containing a significant section of Offa’s Dyke, the field was certainly used as an enclosure for sheep and cattle, that drovers brought down from North Wales & Anglesey – yet it certainly pre-dates the Enclosure Act of 1845. The animals would be kept overnight in Trefonen and when leaving, would be taken in a south-easterly direction and thence to London.

The access point through Whitridge Way, is where there is an historic stone hedge. The Applicant implies that the existing straight boundary is associated with the previous estate development – but this is not the case ! The hedge-line is on old Tithe maps from as far back as 1838! The stone hedge has been estimated to be over 400 years old. One section of the stone hedge, has some clearly ancient and worn stone steps and a stile, which was the means by which the drovers could easily leave the field without releasing any of the animals.

Shropshire Council has a responsibility to protect our heritage; the stone hedge contributes a great deal to the local character of the area and its loss would be detrimental – all should be done to protect it. To gain access to the development, would necessitate the partial removal of this stone hedge – this is simply unacceptable!

The Conceptual plan of the development (see top pic) shows a new footpath link to Offa’s Dyke Trail Path, with possible walkers’ parking indicated. This is ridiculous ! How will visitors be expected to find it, tucked away at the end of an estate cul-de-sac ? Is it appropriate, to send more traffic up an estate cul-de-sac, searching for 5 possible parking spaces which are likely to be full when they find them ? This is just a token gesture item. Offa’s Dyke would lose its significance if a new development is built – ‘significance’ being not just the physical presence of the Dyke, but also the setting in which it exists. In the field of the proposed development, there is a stretch of very visible Dyke, which is over 100 metres long; to build houses in the near vicinity would ruin the context of this section of the Dyke.

View of site as now.  Offa’s Dyke indicated by red line. Walkers on the Dyke path have virtually the same view

View of site as now (looking North). Offa’s Dyke indicated by red line. Walkers on the Dyke path have virtually the same view… at present, but 12 houses built within the yellow box would of course destroy it.

A view from the Dyke. New houses would be just 75 metres from here – by the yellow line; the red line shows the run of the Dyke.

A view from on the Dyke (looking South). New houses would be just 75 metres from it (by the yellow line).

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he view from the proposed site of a new dwelling – looking back at the Dyke (red line), just 75 metres away.

The view from the proposed site of a new dwelling – looking North, back at the Dyke (red line), just 75 metres away; but note, that the nearest section is just 20 metres away.

Paragraph 123 of the NPPF states that planning policies and decisions should aim to: “identify and protect areas of tranquillity which have remained relatively undisturbed by noise and are prized for their recreational and amenity value for this reason. “This area is currently a particularly tranquil part of the village, located alongside the Offa’s Dyke monument and is bordered by the narrow Chapel Lane to the East and the Offa’s Dyke long distance footpath to the West. Both are well used for quiet, passive recreation by villagers and visitors alike whilst taking in the local views and natural environmental features.

Some readers of this article may feel that I’ve been ‘unfair’ to English Heritage. In a sense, that may be true; after all, when we consider such aspects as ‘importance’, ‘context’ and ‘setting’, these are very much subjective opinions. The view from English Heritage, is that building 12 houses within 20m of the Dyke is ‘acceptable’; my view differs, but who is right?  There are, however, a considerable number of material objections that may also be made, by referring to tangible & quantifiable facts. Since these are beyond the scope of this article, I’ll provide just one brief example. 

Shropshire County Council Highways Specification for Residential/Industrial Estate Roads Feb 2000 Section 2.3.5 Access Road (4.8m wide) states that“A standard access road is a short cul-de-sac giving direct access to no more than 50 dwellings. The normal maximum length permitted is 100 metres, if not a loop”.  At 130m long, the current estate cul-de-sac is already well over the 100m maximum length. The extension will add on a further 80m, making an extended total of 210m ! (It cannot be made a loop).  At over twice the normal maximum length, will the cul-de-sac be built ?  Will Shropshire Council take any notice of their own Highways specifications ?  I’d be willing to bet good money, that they’ll ignore their own ruling.

The ‘need’ to build more houses, is the over-riding priority. The willingness of Shropshire Council, to ignore facts – even their own, typifies the kind of thing that we are fighting against; not just the villagers in Trefonen, but in many other towns and villages across the nation.  I’m convinced that this will (deservedly) ‘hurt’ the government at the next election.

Should developers be allowed to put 12 dwellings so close to the Dyke ? Should the field be ‘Open to Offa’s?’ If anyone can help us to fight this case or tell us more about the significance (if any) of stone hedges, please contact me – pubrunner2000@yahoo.com

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