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We have not nor ever will change our opinion of the proposed A303 road scheme with its hugely damaging tunnel. Our opinion has remained consistent since this letter (below), nicely summarising the situation, was published in the Daily Telegraph 28 April 2014. We don’t want to lose the free view from the A303, we don’t want the cuttings on either side of the tunnel to remove everything in the road’s path, and we don’t want a flyover landing alongside Blick Mead.

We will continue to resist this damaging Scheme and will lay down in front of the path of the tunnel if it comes to that. All we want is for Unesco to stand firm and not be taken in by late attempts to pretend the Scheme benefits the World Heritage Site. It does not. STAND FIRM UNESCO – BACK US UP PLEASE.

one of the joys of going on the current A303 is that one gets a glimpse of Stonehenge and I think that is a great benefit and it’s uplifting for people to see”

Jacob Rees-Mogg

As another deadline for the future of the Stonehenge WHS approaches, we have received the following communication from the Stonehenge alliance:

Dear Supporter,

This is a reminder to let you know that the deadline for comments on submissions by National Highways is nearly upon us. 

We are most concerned that, once again,  National Highways is lobbying hard for its discredited Stonehenge road widening scheme to be approved by the Secretary of State for Transport.   
CLICK HERE FOR KEY POINTS TO INCORPORATE
We believe our list of points make a compelling case for a re-examination of the scheme BEFORE the Secretary of State redetermines a re-application for the very same road scheme.

Comments must be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate  by 23:59, MONDAY, 4 APRIL 2022
Please email: A303Stonehenge@planninginspectorate.gov.uk
Western tunnel entrance and cutting | Photo and image credit: National Highways 2019.  More images of the Stonehenge road scheme can be found here.
Thank you so much to all our supporters who have sent comments to the Planning Inspectorate. 

Several of you have pointed out that if you did not register as an “interested party” for the Examination in 2019 you might receive a bureaucratic reply from the Planning Inspectorate as per the graphic below.

  
DO NOT be discouraged!  Your comments will be read, they will make a difference and, we sincerely hope, will be published by the Secretary of State for Transport along with all the others.  One of our supporters who took exception to the irksome reply, elicited an informative response from the Planning Inspectorate. The exchange can be read here.
ABOUT THE STONEHENGE ALLIANCE: The Stonehenge Alliance is a group of non-governmental organisations and individuals that seeks enhancements to the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and opposes development that would cause it significant harm.

After a two-year silence, developers are mounting a fourth bid to build housing in the landscape setting of one of Britain’s pre-eminent Iron Age hillforts.

Since being allocated in Shropshire’s local plan (SAMDev) in 2015, land near the hillfort known as OSW004 has faced a succession of planning applications and revisions, each attracting substantial and sustained opposition both locally and nationally.

Campaigners say that although housing numbers have seen a slight reduction, from 91 to 83, the latest scheme still constitutes ‘major development’ within the near setting of a scheduled monument. They claim that an even greater proportion of dwellings would exceed, either wholly or partly, the northern limit for new buildings that was agreed between Shropshire Council and Historic England as a condition of the site’s allocation for housing.

A change in ownership rights affecting access across the railway line also prevents the application complying with special conditions for development. 

Substantial harm

Campaign group HOOOH (Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort) insists that the revised application does nothing to mitigate what would be substantial harm to the setting and significance of the hillfort. They argue that Old Oswestry is a scheduled monument of great national importance, meaning that any development within the setting can cause substantial harm in contravention of planning law. English Heritage has described Old Oswestry as ‘one of the greatest archaeological monuments of the nation’. 

“We are at a frightening tipping point in Old Oswestry’s 3000-year history,”  HOOOH said.

“The proposals threaten a new direction of town growth that will devastate the hillfort’s surviving but fragile setting, after we have held Oswestry’s urban edge at a respectful and protective distance for generations.

“Housing will obliterate one of the best views of the hillfort for visitors approaching Oswestry from the east, leading to substantial harm to the heritage significance of the monument by destroying appreciation and understanding of the hillfort in its landscape setting as seen from this important vista.

“The town’s northern development boundary will creep ever closer to the hillfort to make way for this out-of-place housing, eroding the hillfort’s rural setting and devaluing its status and visual dominance in the landscape.

“More worrying still, it will give a potential foothold for further construction that will side-line the hillfort as the Oswestry Growth Corridor takes shape along the bypass.”

High quality agricultural land

Classed as greenfield and high quality (Grade 2/3a) agricultural land, OSW004 was originally allocated because the public benefits to meet housing targets were judged to outweigh the detrimental impacts on one of Britain’s archaeological jewels. But HOOOH says new targets have been scaled back in the forthcoming SAMDev revision, and more than sufficient land has been identified elsewhere to accommodate long-term housing growth in Oswestry.

“The over-ambitious housing targets and over-stated need for housing land that were the main imperative to build seven years ago no longer exist,” HOOOH continues.

“The push to develop now is purely down to a housebuilder keen to capitalise on the site’s very saleable proximity to a sleepy, green hillfort despite the devastating impacts on world-class heritage and on a landscape highly valued by the community. We trust the planning committee will see sense and throw it out.”

Campaigners point out that planning consent for housing just a short distance along from OSW004 on Whittington Road was recently refused because it would add to traffic congestion and safety issues at the junction with Gobowen Road.

HOOOH said: “An estate of 83 houses at OSW004 would make these traffic problems considerably worse. Joined up planning is needed to see that OSW004 is the wrong location for Oswestry’s sustainable development due to the disconnect with schools and shops, the additional traffic congestion, and the inappropriate use of land of high heritage and agricultural value.”

Dominate the landscape

Iron Age hillforts were strategically located to dominate the landscape and signpost tribal territory and power. Often referred to as the Stonehenge of the Iron Age, Old Oswestry ranks among the most impressive of Britain’s prehistoric sites. This is due to the earthwork’s unique and complex design, the extent to which the monument and surrounding landscape have been preserved, and their importance to our understanding of Iron Age society.

The historic farming landscape around the hillfort contributes greatly to how we experience Old Oswestry in its setting and how we can appreciate its heritage significance. This landscape is, therefore, an integral part of the safeguarding and conservation of the scheduled monument.

The housing bid has consistently met with mass objections from the public, local stakeholders, and influential national heritage bodies including the CBA (Council for British Archaeology), RESCUE (the British Archaeological Trust) and The Prehistoric Society.

High profile academics and media figures have also voiced their support for the campaign including Professor Alice Roberts, Professor Michael Wood, Professor Mary Beard, Bettany Hughes, Dan Snow, Tom Holland, Francis Pryor of Channel 4 Time Team fame, and the author Cressida Cowell. The campaign was also featured on Griff Rhys Jones’ ITV series, Griff’s Great Britain. 

The public deadline for representations to the planning application (reference   20/01033/EIA) is February 9. Full details can be found at https://tinyurl.com/44m38rna

HOOOH says that if anyone encounters problems making representations via Shropshire Council’s planning portal, they can email them to: planning.northern@shropshire.gov.uk

More information on the 10-year debacle over development in Old Oswestry’s setting can be viewed at www.oldowestryhillfort.co.uk

In 1849 a young relative of Wordsworth, Emmeline Fisher, wrote Lines on the Opening of Silbury Hill, a poetic apology to the ancestors for an excavation that was going on at that time into the “Green Pyramid of the plains, from far-ebbed Time” as she called it. It commenced:

Bones of our wild forefathers, O forgive,
If now we pierce the chambers of your rest,
And open your dark pillows to the eye
Of the irreverent Day!

We think there may be a much more significant apology due soon, for the gouging of a mile of new dual carriageway through Europe’s most important prehistoric landscape at Stonehenge and the stealing of the free view of the stones currently enjoyed by millions of travellers a year. We’ll all be long gone when the full scale of the loss is fully understood by a future possessing technology inconceivably more sophisticated than ours.

So, we would like to announce a poetry competition, in the form of an apology to the future. The winning entry or entries will be put in an envelope sealed with red wax and placed in a ceramic urn, just like Emmeline’s was, and buried just outside the World Heritage site, an apology for posterity to find!

.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Entries please, no longer than 10 lines, with your own choice of title. We’ll publish some of them here in the Journal and elsewhere and the winner will be chosen by a committee drawn from some of the many organisations and groups who have worked so hard for so long to stop this dreadful scheme going ahead. Then, if the worst happens, on the day the first bulldozer is deployed, we will bury the apologies as described. Please send your entries to info@heritageaction.org.uk  Good luck!

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Dear Heritage Journal,

I’ve just seen on BBC iplayer a very interesting programme about the Oseberg Viking Burial Ship. This is one of Norway’s most prized archaeological finds due to the extraordinarily well-preserved 1,200-year-old artefacts. Amazingly around 90% of the original longship has been preserved for display, complete with most of the ornately detailed carvings on the boat. All of this preservation is because the site remained permanently damp for 1,200 years and so a lot could be preserved, carbon-dated, and accurately interpreted.

The reason I am saying this is because in Britain we have a hugely important and rich archaeological site which has remained continuously damp for over 10,000 years. That site is called Blick Mead and it is just beginning to reveal how hunter-gatherers evolved to become the culture of people who built the wider Stonehenge World Heritage Site.

Despite its importance, the British Government, English Heritage, and National Trust think it’s acceptable to bore a massive tunnel with a four-lane dual carriageway and a flyover very close to it. Even though it is a scientific fact that this will eventually dry out Blick Mead and seriously damage it – forever!

__________________________________________________________

More money is needed in the fight against the Stonehenge short tunnel scheme which hands a near-monopoly over even seeing Stonehenge to a quango. If you possibly can, please contribute to the fight opposing it here. ___________________________________________________________

Following last week’s news that a date has been set for the High Court challenge against the decision to go ahead with the tunnel at Stonehenge, SSWHS issued a further press release as follows:

Dear supporter,

Success at the first hurdle! On Wednesday (24th Feb) we learnt that our challenge to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ shocking decision to go ahead with the A303 Stonehenge scheme would be heard in the High Court on 23 – 25 June.

Apart from the Department for Transport defending our challenge, Highways England and Historic England will also be taking part as interested parties.

We’re contesting the decision on the following grounds:

* Harm to each heritage asset within the project should have been weighed in the balance, instead of considering the “historic environment” as a whole.

* None of the advice provided by Historic England provided the evidential basis for the Secretary of State’s conclusion of “less than substantial harm” to any of the assets impacted by the project.

* He allowed purported “heritage benefits” to be weighed against heritage harm, before deciding whether that overall harm was “substantial” or “less than substantial”, which was unlawful under the National Policy Statement

* He failed to take into account that development consent would breach the World Heritage Convention

* He left out of account mandatory material considerations: the breach of various local policies; the impact of his finding of heritage harm which undermined the business case for the proposal and the existence of at least one alternative

Thanks to your generosity we reached our initial target of £50,000 very quickly and this enabled us to go forward with the necessary preparation work for the judicial review. However, due to the complicated nature of the case and the amount of work needed for a three-day hearing, we are having to raise our target to £80,000. We hope you understand and feel able to continue to support us. Legal action is expensive and although our lawyers are working for us at a heavily discounted rate, costs mount up. We also have to bear in mind that any decision could be appealed which we would potentially have to fundraise for as well.

Nevertheless, we are firmly committed to the fight to save Stonehenge World Heritage Site from irreparable damage and with your help we have successfully negotiated the first hurdle. Now we need to prepare for the hearing.

Thanks for your support so far, we cannot do this without you.

With best wishes,

John, Mike, Chris and Kate

Donations are still being accepted on the SSWHS CrowdJustice page. Please donate if you are able, every penny helps.

Save Stonehenge WHS Ltd. (SSWHS – a company established by individual Stonehenge Alliance supporters to take forward the legal action) heard this week that a three-day High Court hearing will take place from 23rd to 25th June. SSWHS is challenging Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ decision to go ahead with the highly damaging A303 dual carriageway through the World Heritage Site (WHS). His decision was taken against the advice of a panel of five senior Planning Inspectors (the Examining Authority) who formally examined the scheme in 2019.

The Inspectors considered that the scheme’s benefits “would not outweigh the harm arising from the excavation of a deep, wide cutting and other engineering works, within the WHS and its setting, of a scale and nature not previously experienced historically in this ‘landscape without parallel’”. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, who gave the WHS its international designation in 1986, has also condemned the road scheme.

The complexity of the case has obliged SSWHS to raise its funding target for the legal challenge, including the three-day hearing.

Kate Fielden, Hon Secretary the Stonehenge Alliance and SSWHS, said:

“Having a date for the court hearing gives us something to aim for in preparing for our challenge to Grant Shapps’ outrageous decision. We urge our supporters to help us to continue the fight to save our famous World Heritage Site from this appalling scheme. There can be no more iconic symbol of the global heritage of mankind than Stonehenge and we have a duty to safeguard it for future generations.”

The Stonehenge Alliance supporter-organisations are: Ancient Sacred Landscape Network; CPRE; FoE; Rescue, the British Archaeological Trust; and Transport Action Network.

Setting out to “reveal the facts behind some of the most common myths and misconceptions about the A303 Stonehenge scheme” Highways England have been making fudge.

Fudge #1 – The tunnel is going under the Stonehenge 

“This is just not true”, says Highways England, conveniently overlooking that Stonehenge is a 5.6 km wide UNESCO World Heritage Site and the proposed A303 tunnel within it is only 3km long.

Fudge #2 – “You’ll not be seeing bulldozers at Stonehenge”, says Highways England.

Only then to state: “the only equipment (above ground) in the World Heritage Site will be at the tunnel entrances and cuttings” – so we will be seeing bulldozers at Stonehenge!

Fudge #3 – Stonehenge will be damaged during construction

“Again – not true”, says Highways England, conveniently overlooking a wide deep 1km long cutting to be excavated through a Beaker cemetery and remains of an Early Bronze Age settlement within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.

Fudge #4 – We’ll lose the free view of Stonehenge 

“If you’re a driver, this is true,” says Highways England. Big of them. Passengers as well as drivers of upwards of 24,000 vehicles a day will lose the experience of encountering the free view of Stonehenge from the A303 forever.

Fudge #5 – The traffic is caused by people slowing down to look at the stones (just put a fence up instead)

“A fence wouldn’t solve this and would damage those things that make the World Heritage Site special – creating a barrier, something we are trying to remove by placing the A303 in a 2-mile tunnel”, says Highways England.

Of all the fudged claims made by Highways England this is surely a contender for a prize – so a fence “would damage those things that make the World Heritage Site special – creating a barrier” but a tunnel and attached cuttings totalling 4.5km in a 5.6km wide World Heritage Site isn’t creating a barrier and damaging what makes this place special?

Having featured the Highways England video posted on social media 16 December 2020, advice for SMEs (small and medium-sized business enterprises) which momentarily included some small print in the top left corner, the Heritage Journal have been informed that Highways England posted an almost identical video on social media 17 December 2020 that no longer included this small print:

‘Filmed before COVID restrictions’.

At the beginning of December it was reported that 75% of SMEs have endured a negative impact from the pandemic in 2020, tens of thousands of jobs are at risk and the UK is predicted to emerge from the pandemic in ‘one of the worst global positions.’

In view of which what are Highways England playing at?

Highways England’s A303 Stonehenge Community posted a 20 second video on social media 16 December 2020, featuring advice from a supplier to a road scheme in another part of the country, which in addition to sound was spelled out in large print:

The main advice I would give to SMEs [small and medium-sized business enterprises] that are looking to work on projects such as these is don’t be shy. Be brave, be bold, if you genuinely believe that you’ve got the capability to support projects and deliver on these projects, go for it. 

If spotted – fading in after 2 seconds then disappearing by 6 seconds – some small print momentarily appeared in the top left corner of the video as seen in the accompanying screenshot:

‘Filmed before COVID restrictions’.

So this interview was filmed before it was revealed that the independent Planning Inspectorate had recommended refusal of the A303 Stonehenge (Amesbury to Berwick Down) tunnel scheme.

The interview was filmed before it was announced that legal advice was being sought on a potential challenge to the Secretary of State for Transport’s decision to ignore the findings of 5 senior planning inspectors.

It was filmed before active protests in opposition to the decision to proceed with the tunnel were launched in the Stonehenge landscape.

In view of the above, has Highways England provided the supplier in the video with an update then courteously asked permission before posting the footage in these very different times?

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