The renowned academic, Professor Dame Mary Beard, has added her voice to nationwide concerns over major development in Old Oswestry hillfort’s historical setting.

The Much Wenlock born classics professor, writer and TV presenter is among numerous celebrities who have been reacting on social media to Galliers Homes’ proposals for 91 houses as the consultation deadline approaches.

Others include the academic and TV personality, Professor Alice Roberts, Francis Pryor of Channel 4 Time Team fame, as well as John Challis, Boycie from Only Fools and Horses, and Viv and Ralf from Channel 4’s Gogglebox. The award-winning author and Waterstones Children’s Laureate, Cressida Cowell, also tweeted her support.

The social media activity saw a surge in objections, which Shropshire Council’s planning office confirmed caused temporary problems for some people submitting comments online, according to campaign group HOOOH.

Oswestry Town Council, Cambrian Heritage Railways and OBHAG (Oswestry & Border Archaeology & History Group) are among local stakeholders maintaining their opposition. Influential national heritage bodies have also objected, including the CBA (Council for British Archaeology), RESCUE (the British Archaeological Trust) and The Prehistoric Society.

Heritage experts insist that development will damage Old Oswestry’s landscape setting and harm its significance contrary to national planning rules. The proposals also contravene Shropshire Council’s local plan policy, with half of the development extending beyond Historic England’s stated northern limit.

In Professor Alice Roberts’ objection on Shropshire Council’s website, she states: “Old Oswestry Hillfort is one of the best preserved hill forts in Britain. The proposed plan exceeds existing limits to development, and fundamentally fails to respect both the national importance of this site and its importance to local people. The development would have an irreversible impact on this very important piece of our national heritage.”

A spokesperson for HOOOH said: “The Inspector’s criteria for rubberstamping this land allocation six years ago in Shropshire’s SAMDev plan have fundamentally changed. Oswestry’s targets for annual housing delivery are being scaled back, while changes concerning the legal status of the adjacent Cambrian line as an operating railway prevent the development from meeting key sustainability criteria on pedestrian and cycle access.

“New studies reaffirming the high value of the landscape around the hillfort north of Oswestry have seen Shropshire Council rule out any further allocations within this most sensitive of areas in their local plan review to 2036. The slim justification for housing that councillors and the Inspector were led to believe in 2014 no longer stands, and the site should simply not be developed.

“The masterplan for the current application entirely fails to meet Historic England’s requirements on the northern limit for building and acceptable design, and therefore Shropshire’s northern planning committee has compelling grounds to refuse permission.”

These are the third set of plans to be submitted by Galliers Homes within a year, prompting huge opposition each time. Objections on the planning portal (as of 19 April 2020) have reached almost 200, exceeding total objections to each of the previous and subsequently withdrawn submissions.

The 3,000-year-old hillfort is widely referred to as ‘The Stonehenge of the Iron Age’ for its unique design and pivotal importance together with its landscape for the understanding of Iron Age society.

The deadline for public comments is today (April 20). People can view the planning application and make representations by searching 20/01033/EIA via the link: https://pa.shropshire.gov.uk/online-applications/

HOOOH said: “If people experience problems registering and submitting comments on the planning portal, we recommend that they email them instead to:  planning.northern@shropshire.gov.uk.”

Further information on the 8-year planning wrangle over Old Oswestry’s setting and issues concerning development is available at www.oldowestryhillfort.co.uk