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We wonder if the National Trust is feeling nervous about its inconsistent approach to protection of World Heritage Sites. It is striking that a member’s question asked in advance, about the National Trust’s stance on the 2.9 km tunnel at Stonehenge, resulted in no reply at the Trust’s AGM on 7 November:
“In view of its firm objection to the temporary visual impact (for 25 years) of the proposed Navitus Bay Wind Park on the setting of the Dorset and East Devon Coast World Heritage Site, is the Trust now prepared to reconsider its position on proposals for widening the A303 within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and actively demand a road solution that would not cause permanent major physical damage to the archaeological landscape of the World Heritage Site and its setting?”
The questioner pointed out that the Trust had said in its objection to the wind park:
“We are deeply concerned about the visual impact on the setting of UNESCO designated World Heritage Jurassic coast”.
The reply from the Trust (sent later by email) was as follows:
“Proposals to develop within or near World Heritage Sites always require careful consideration. We continue to support the principle of a tunnel of at least 2.9km under the Stonehenge Landscape. We believe that a well-designed and carefully located tunnel of that length could provide a significant overall benefit to the World Heritage Site landscape.
In respect of Navitus Bay there was no pre-existing harm to the setting of the World Heritage Site. We opposed the development because it was the wrong scale in the wrong place and was only resulting in harm which the developer had failed to mitigate.”
So it’s OK to object to temporarily harming the setting of one World Heritage Site while actively promoting permanent harm to the setting and fabric of another?
“Old Oswestry Hillfort” said it all on Facebook:
“But beware! On Thursday 17th December, the Council will be hoping to dumb down another looming error of judgement – one that flies in the face of the public they purport to serve and the express opinion of the country’s most qualified heritage experts.”
In some ways Council Leader Keith Barrow is the gift that keeps on giving for the dismal independent repugnate of Shropshireland. It is not specifically he who wants to damage a nationally important scheduled monument. It is the Council. Now that he has been found guilty of breaching the Council’s code of conduct the public is naturally calling for his resignation but that’s where the danger lies. If he succeeds in hanging on, people will think he’s the main problem. He isn’t. Worse, if (as seems far more likely) the Council throws him out they will seek to imply the stink has departed with him. But it won’t have.
Let the Campaign not focus on Mr Barrow. Let it focus on Shropshire Council (and indeed Heritage England) for supporting the unsupportable.
Shropshire Council’s grubby machinations wouldn’t normally attract attention beyond Shropshireland. However, they’ve voted to damage a nationally significant monument in defiance of national advice so they’re under national scrutiny. So let it be noted they’ve just found their Leader guilty of offending against “the principles of Integrity, Honesty and Leadership” in their Code of Conduct but that he remains Leader! His only punishment is that he must attend “training” to ensure such “oversight” is avoided in the future. Will that help Oswestry hillfort? You decide.
Meanwhile, the evidence they’ve made a huge misjudgement on the hillfort grows ever greater and creeps ever closer. A recent appeal decision in Bredon, Worcestershire involves the same basic issues: would a housing development within the setting of a listed building and an historic monument cause more harm than benefit? The Inspector there ruled yes. The significance of that is that anyone who knows both places will know that by any honest measure the harm at Oswestry would be far greater than what has been judged unacceptable at Bredon (by both an Inspector and Worcestershire Council!)
Perhaps, nevertheless, they’ll still insist it’s chalk and cheese and far more complex than the campaigners and distinguished national experts are saying. If so that may be yet another “oversight” on their part arising from the fact they’ve failed to read Section 72 of the Bredon decision which could surely also apply at Oswestry. Far from complex, it’s rather simple:
“In view of the weight carried by the heritage harm, this harm is the overriding factor, and is not outweighed by the benefits of the proposal. Due to this environmental harm, the proposal also does not represent sustainable development having regard to the policies in the Framework taken as a whole.”
Update 25 November
Today the evidence against Shropshire Council’s decision at Oswestry became yet nearer and yet stronger. This time it’s an Inspector’s decision at Norton Hales, Shropshire, just 33 miles from Oswestry: (http://static.ow.ly/docs/Bearstone%20Rd_425A.pdf)
“34. On balance, I am satisfied that the minor harm that would be caused to the Conservation Area would be outweighed by the public benefits that the proposal would deliver.
Dr Jim Leary has recently been awarded a grant from The Leverhulme Trust to fund a project entitled ‘Extending Histories: from Medieval Mottes to Prehistoric Round Mounds’, which will run until the end of 2017. In essence it means that he and a team of researchers from the University or Reading and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre will be investigasting a number of mottes to see if they conceal earlier prehistoric mounds, something that has recently been confirmed at Marlborough.
You’d have thought there are no massive prehistoric monuments left in Britain that aren’t well documented but it seems that may not be true and that a number of them may be hidden in plain sight. Using a variety of techniques including coring “the project seeks to uncover prehistoric mounds that were adapted for medieval defence or have been misidentified as later mottes – a previously unrecognized phenomenon that could re-write our understanding of both the later Neolithic and Norman periods.”
Read more about the Round Mounds Project on its blog here
News reached us last week that The Portman Hunt had been written to by the National Trust amid claims it’s horses and hounds damaged Hambledon Hill after the Hunt “left the recognised bridleway and came across the hill”. A National Trust volunteer was even quoted saying “They have now twice been guilty of blatant and wilful damage to a scheduled ancient monument. What, I wonder will it take to make them actually take real notice?”
Lest the National Trust or others are unaware, wilful damage of a scheduled Ancient Monument is a criminal offence in this country. So why on earth are the National Trust pussy footing around with letters when they should be straight onto the police? A quick internet search shows the hunt isn’t exactly a paradigm of virtue so its explanation that they merely “left the track to round up some dogs.” should be taken with a hefty pinch of salt.
After all its not even as if its a first offence on this site, photographic evidence of Portman Hunt members bombing about the hillfort on quad bikes exists from a previous time as you can see below.
Those of you with long memories will recall we highlighted a different hunt last year who decided riding multiple horses over a barrow was appropriate. A trend of disrespect and contempt?
Following the Lenborough Hoard debacle (the latest of dozens of hoards dug up too fast with detectorists claiming they couldn’t be guarded overnight) you’d think PAS would ensure it never happened again. But no, they ensured it would! At the BM event An Introduction to PAS and Treasure they were asked for a definitive answer about digging a hoard “on a Saturday/Sunday afternoon when you can’t get hold of the FLO.” It was the perfect moment to finally say: always guard it, never dig it but instead they said that due to PAS’s financial constraints it’s up to the individual finder on how best to secure the find spot.
That sounds to the thinking public a bit like “guard it till the archaeologists can come” but it can also be used by those who are so inclined to announce “darkness was coming so digging it out was the best way to secure it“. For the benefit of all future such barefaced liars here’s one of dozens of ways that people who are going to be holding their hands out for a Treasure reward could guard Britain’s property ……