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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.