Sekhemka, the ancient Egyptian statue owned by the public yet sold by Northampton Council last year in the face of widespread condemnation, gazes towards another publicly owned asset, the archaeological setting of Oswestry Hillfort, perhaps soon to be destroyed by the actions of Shropshire Council in the face of similar widespread condemnation.

Sekhemka, the ancient Egyptian statue owned by the public yet sold last year by Northampton Council despite widespread condemnation, gazes across  another publicly owned asset, the archaeological setting of Oswestry Hillfort, perhaps soon to be destroyed by the actions of Shropshire Council despite similar widespread condemnation.  In both cases the Councils have assured the public they are motivated by the best of intentions. In both cases, coincidentally, about £15 million is involved.

There was a plan, Oswestry 2020, published in May 2013 under the banner, “Creating Tomorrow Today”. It was signed by Councillor Martin Bennett, Chair of the Steering Group and was said to be based on “the aspirations and priorities of the local community”. Maybe. But with regard to the hillfort something has subsequently clearly come between the will of the people and the actions of their representatives. What that something was might be explained by this account supplied by campaigner Diana Baur on Facebook in Feb 2014: “Martin Bennett emailed me ages ago when I challenged it all and explained that the council are *** scared of being challenged by the developer because they may have to end up with paying costs of such a challenge”.

What that seems to suggest is that if you’ve got deep enough pockets you can bully people with the threat of expensive litigation and get exactly what you want. Is that what’s happened in Shropshireland? It’s certainly one possibility, but there’s another (or maybe another aspect of the same one) : the Plan said of itself that it was “an informed and influential guide to developers, setting out what matters most to local people” and that it expresses The Town Vision in which “important open spaces are protected and enhanced”. But was it?Just look at how the monument’s place in that vision was depicted:

oswestry limits.

It couldn’t be smaller, could it? Keep in mind that that the line round the monument is supposed to be doing two things: a.) illustrating an open space that matters to local people and b.) acting as an informed guide to developers. It is drawn incredibly tightly round the hillfort, with no breathing space, no buffer zone, no hinterland, no protected views and no setting (think of it: what English Heritage say is one of the greatest archaeological monuments of the nation” and the Plan depicts it with no setting whatsoever!) – and none of it based upon any statutory authority, archaeological opinion or public expression of agreement! Yes, it might be defended as merely “symbolic” and not intended to imply a particular limit to the protected area, but if that’s true it’s a mighty strange coincidence, is it not, that subsequently applications have been made to build houses right up to the very edge of that very line?

oswestry limit 2

Has Shropshire only recently been bullied by people with deep pockets? Or was there an intention to frustrate the popular will and archaeological opinion from the very start?

Or both? You decide.