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As mentioned recently, the latest deadline for objections to the most recent planning application at Old Oswestry Hillfort expires in two days time (April 2nd).

As of last night, less than 30 objections have been registered, but it’s hoped this will increase with last-minute submissions in the two days remaining.

If you’ve not yet submitted your own objection, the Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort (HOOH) group have put together a handy guide with suggestions for inclusion in your submission.

As one protester has stated:

Hillforts were built to stand guard and benevolently look out over their surrounding territory and protect it from intruders. They were also designed to be looked up to from that territory with reverence and respect. So it would be a great tragedy if you were to allow this very intrusive planning application as it is much too close and would seriously damage the historical and aesthetic setting of the hillfort.

As mentioned last Friday, the developers at Oswestry recently withdrew two plans to build upon the site.

But as anticipated, a further plan has been introduced in its place, as the latest newsletter from the Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort (HOOOH) campaign explains:

April 2nd is the deadline to object to yet another revised development bid in Old Oswestry’s near landscape.

This 3rd one (for 91 houses) is still as big and as damaging to the significance of this outstanding Iron Age hillfort and its setting as all previous ones. Be warned that the 18 or so days left to object are likely to be the very final countdown to have your say – this latest application comes with an actual deadline date for determination (July 1st).

The new planning application and object can be seen here.

Planning reference: 20/01033/EIA, Land To The North Of Whittington Road, Oswestry, Shropshire. Proposed residential development of 91 No. dwellings with associated access, public open space, electricity sub-station, drainage and landscaping.

Please be aware:

  • Fields shared with/next to the proposed land (OSW004) have been protected from housing development in the local plan review to 2036 due to their heritage importance as part of the hillfort’s setting. OSW004 would also meet these criteria if it had not been controversially allocated back in 2015 – it stands out like a sore thumb as an unnecessary and wrong place for housing.
  • Additional land has been identified for housing east of the bypass at Park Hall, keeping town growth away from the hillfort.
  • Oswestry has received funding to help unlock yet more land for over 1,150 new houses in the next 10 years.
  • Oswestry’s delivery target for housing is 90/year, including a proportion of affordable houses. Almost 100 affordable homes alone have been built in 2017/2018. There is no need to encroach into the hillfort’s landscape.

With only two weeks left for objections to be lodged, our supporters are urged to object via the http://www.shropshire.gov/planning website, as soon as possible. Further details of how best to formulate an objection will be released soon.


Highways England’s A303 Stonehenge tunnel scheme is at a critical stage. A decision on whether to approve it is due by 2 April, but funding for the scheme could be announced in the Budget on 11 March. We would like to swamp the Chancellor of the Exchequer with letters from around the country and abroad to show the strength of feeling against it.

Please write in your own words to:

The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer
Email: public.enquiries@hmtreasury.gsi.gov.uk
cc: transportsecretary@dft.gov.uk and your local MP (find your UK MP here)

Subject: A303 Stonehenge

Dear Chancellor,

I would like to strongly urge you not to approve funding for the high risk and highly damaging A303 Stonehenge scheme:

  • It is poor value for money and high risk. Highways England estimates only 21 pence of benefit for each £1 invested, if the highly dodgy heritage survey is discounted. Cost overruns are likely due to tunnelling through poor quality chalk and unpredictable groundwater conditions.
  • UNESCO opposes the scheme which would irreparably damage The World Heritage Site and which the UK Government has pledged to protect for future generations.
  • The scheme would increase carbon emissions at a time when the Government needs to show international leadership on climate change ahead of COP26 in Glasgow.
  • Please add any other concerns or expand on the above.

Yours sincerely,
Your full name
Your home address

If you have time please also email the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
 
For more ideas on what to write see the recent letter to Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps from the Stonehenge Alliance

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT AT THIS CRUCIAL MOMENT IN OUR CAMPAIGN

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.

I recently attended a very interesting one-day workshop held by the Penwith Landscape Partnership (PLP) here in Cornwall. The subject of the workshop was ‘Rights of Way, Surveying and the Law’.

The course was designed to help volunteers become proficient in surveying access routes, reporting any problems found and teaching about the law regarding different types of access. The day was led by Linda Holloway, a Senior Officer in Cornwall Council’s Countryside Access Team, well versed in all aspects of the subject.

We discussed the three main categories of public routes, which are:

  • Public footpaths – designed for walkers only. Dogs are allowed, but no special provision is made for them (at stiles, etc).
  • Bridleways – For horses, walkers, and cyclists.
  • Byeways – Which allow vehicles in addition to the above (sometimes restricted, e.g. for landowner access only).

Unrestricted access to the above is determined by the Definitive Map, which was set in 1952 (with some subsequent additions). If a path is marked on this map, then the public has the right to access, by law. Of course, in many cases, landowners find it inconvenient to have public pathways across their land, and will often try to discourage their use. This may be by use of off-putting signs (beware of the bull, trespassers will be prosecuted, etc.) or some form of obstruction such as locked or blocked gates, overgrown paths, intimidating livestock in fields, etc.

We heard of several horror stories where landowners had been prosecuted, including some awful cases where people had been severely injured in accidents.

All incidents of lack of access, or damage to paths on the Definitive Map should be immediately reported to the local council, who will follow-up and take appropriate action to restore access.

So how does all of this affect those of us who like to visit ancient sites? Well, it’s a sad fact that many pathways are not included on the definitive map. In 2012, the government announced plans to simplify the recording of definitive paths. Under these plans, all unrecorded footpaths and bridleways created before 1949 will no longer be recorded after 1 January 2026. This means that pathways that have been available for use to access the countryside that are not on the definitive map are in severe danger of being lost/closed for future use.

So what can be done to protect these unregistered pathways for future generations to use? There are several initiatives underway to get pathways added to the Definitive Map before the deadline expires.

  • The Ramblers organisation has produced a downloadable guide to help identify and register ‘lost’ pathways.
  • The British Horse Society provides online maps for most of the country, showing definitive and lost pathways, and providing links to older maps to assist with evidencing historical usage of paths.
  • Restoring the Record illustrates the sorts of evidence that are valuable in recording paths of historic origin. This is important because unrecorded routes will cease to exist on Path Extinguishment Day (1 January 2026).
  • Rights of Way Maps provides a search facility for maps showing existing (registered) rights of way. Useful for identifying existing registered paths.

In order to be added to the Definitive List, evidence of the use of a pathway must be provided. This may be a witness statement indicating regular usage, documentary evidence on old maps or tithe apportionments, or other historical evidence.

If you care at all about rights of way, and particularly if you regularly use a currently unregistered path to access ancient monuments in our countryside, please consider getting involved in registering our paths via one of the projects listed above before they are irretrievably lost!

 

We recently received a letter from one of our readers, who wished to remain anonymous. Although only conjecture, the letter makes some interesting points regarding the proposed Spanish amendments to the World Heritage Committee’s drafts to the UK re the A303 scheme at Stonehenge. We reproduce the letter here in full:

Dear Sir/ Madam,

Why Spain’s stance on the A303 scheme near Stonehenge?

I wish to support our country. Often I scratch my head at money seemingly taking some precedent in decisions, but one wonders whether it is more important to protect wonderful sights and have imagination fuelled beyond the calculations. Some say yes, some say no, and many do not seem to care, their imaginations increasingly filled by with ever the reality of being able to put a plate on the table and spend more time with their loved ones.

For the last 100 years the car has become a necessity for many, and a driver, excuse the pun, for economic development and continued growth, it keeps people in purpose and freedom. Granted, there are probably too many of them, but this is what we do, we find things and make them into something else that enables a cycle, just like how people once built Stonehenge and made it from boulders from a landscape far away. But there is only one Stonehenge, unlike the cars; and whatever you may think of it, be it a big calendar, a grand gathering place for people to share or enlighten or a sacred place, it’s just there and it’s made it this far.

And so, to question of the Spanish intervention at the WHC42; backed by Burkina Faso, Hungary, Brazil, and Zimbabwe. It was interesting to see that the Spanish amendments (see below) to the World Heritage Committee were in order to undermine protection advised in the initial drafts presented by the WHC mission to the UK.

One wonders whether it has anything to do with potential tenders to Ferrovial / Cintra who are lined up as possible contractors (the others being Hochtief or Skanska/Strabag) and the proposed £1.6 billion finance scheme, or a timetable? I infer no wrongdoing or bias here, or indeed any lack of integrity, noting that the qualified diplomacy on display at the WHC was very impressive. However we must be careful with wanton speculation as there could be a plethora of other reasons; some have said Gibraltar, others may note that the WHC Spanish delegate is the wife to the ex-Secretary of Spain for Industry and Tourism, who knows, the PP in Spain are noted for dodgy deals?

But perhaps if the site wasn’t protected and debated about as it has been, the less scrupulous amongst our own might have bulldozed it already and stuck a big Mickey Mouse ride and a McDonalds on the site for a fist full of dollars; no EH jokes required.

Of course, we are not in the halls of power to make the decisions about cashing in and developing the land or highway, or for me, even comprehend other significances that may be a bit stranger. But if it is the case that it may be done deal, then the best possible solution needs to be found, as was originally proposed by the mission who came to assess the site of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), so that other people can wander past, or get some vibes, or whatever in generations to come.

Sometimes I think it is just that simple, imagination is a treasure. Is it greater to us folk, than not sitting in a traffic jam for a bit longer, and is it worth more than a public/private contract deal that could literally cut corners?

We have failed in the past through not knowing how to best understand or protect our places of interest, and we learn and guide from this. The OUV should be looked after, all agree, looked after for future generations; but only to the very best of our engineering and planning ability, and with the utmost credence given to the concerns of the community whose work it is to protect and learn and teach from our heritage, alongside the developers. The Spanish amendment reduces this real value for this scheme required for some of the community and was unnecessary. And just maybe, if they were around today, the engineers of Stonehenge might well agree.

Kind regards,

(redacted)

London

Hmmm… so would you or anyone feel it right that a developer that wanted to build in your neighbourhood was allowed to sit in final judgment of the planning department’s recommendations?

That, in short, is what is happening with the now £1.7 billion Stonehenge tunnel.

The Transport Secretary instructed Highways England to adopt a tunnel within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, and following the planning process will make the final decision whether or not it goes ahead unless successfully challenged in the High Court.

The “result” of consultations on options for widening the A303 across the Stonehenge World Heritage Site is yet to be announced – or “presented through an undemocratic lense” one might say. There will be no surprises. It will be said to point to popular and expert enthusiasm for the protection and enhancement of the World Heritage landscape – hoorah! – but a version of protection and enhancement which will have an unspoken opposite effect. How could it be otherwise, given Highways England’s and the Government’s stated aims? Let no-one be in doubt: their primary aim is not to protect and enhance the World Heritage landscape and it never was. They can only do that without building a surface dual carriageway.

This is a tragedy that has been long in the making. In 2012 Simon Jenkins smelt a rat about the Olympic opening ceremony. Was its depiction of rural Britain as “a land of fields and ploughmen, cottages, cows, sheep and horses, of Glastonbury, cricket and the Proms” a cover for a more radical vision, and was the countryside in the cross hairs of the Government and its developer friends (who kindly helped them fashion the new Planning approach)? Should the name of the ceremony be changed from “The Isles of Wonder” to “Goobye to all that”?!

Time showed that his discomfort with the direction of travel was justified and in the following year, in a piece titled “Our Glorious Land in Peril” he reiterated his view that the new presumption in favour of sustainable development, defined merely as profitable, was the most philistine concept in planning history and he spoke witheringly of the architects of the policy:
“None of these politicians shows any awareness of the beauty of the rural landscape. All live in prosperous cities and probably holiday abroad. Urban renewal is beyond them. That English people should treasure their countryside, as polls show they do overwhelmingly, is beyond them.”

Now that one of our most loved views, the free view of Stonehenge from the A303, is intended to be snatched away forever, his words still have great resonance:Ministers may win Right-wing guffaws in think-tank saloons. But it is their deeds now being scratched and scarred across the face of England that we shall remember.” The scratches and scars, if allowed to happen, will outlive Chris Grayling and the rest by millenia.

What do you do when the world’s leading heritage body opposes your ambitions? Demonise it? Is Simon Thurley, ex English Heritage leader, doing exactly that for the British Government?

This NGO (ICOMOS UK, the national advisory body to UNESCO) it is widely felt, adds another layer of complexity and (often) confusion to an already complex landscape of heritage protection and planning.” It “limps on as a membership organisation producing reports on UK World Heritage Sites and other conservation matters. It rarely sees eye to eye with Historic England and its views are more or less ignored within government – but it guides and advises UNESCO on UK World Heritage Sites, and thus has some influence.”

“The UK has a sophisticated and democratic planning system, and the government and local authorities have questioned the right of unelected international ‘experts’ to challenge what has been decided under UK law. Indeed, some believe that UNESCO should concentrate on making lists of pizza-makers and endangered sports rather than involving itself in the complex issues of national planning policy.”

Oh Simon! Who asked you to write that?

Rain is forecast that will significantly add to the standing water on Byway 12 at Stonehenge today – the stretch south of the A303 can be seen in the accompanying photographs taken during April.

It may dry off soon enough but everything the Wiltshire Council cabinet member for highways, transport, and waste, Bridget Wayman, stated about the Ridgeway at Avebury, when closing the route to motorised traffic for a further 21 days, also applies to Byway 12 south of the A303 at Stonehenge:

“The weather in recent weeks has left the surface of the byway severely rutted, and it is still holding water in numerous locations. There are globally important archaeological features on and immediately below the surface and they need to be protected from further damage.”

We might then recall that Highways England adopted Byway 12 in September 2016 as an access route for digging machinery in connection with the now abandoned western portal location for the Stonehenge tunnel, and in the coming weeks a repeat performance is expected, in the name of the Stonehenge tunnel scheme now totally discredited by ICOMOS UK.

Standing water on byway 12

Why then is Wiltshire Council rightly protecting the Ridgeway at Avebury, but failing to extend protection to Byway 12 in the Stonehenge half of the WHS (World Heritage Site)? Keep the diggers off Byway 12 please!

The various current proposals for altering the A303 around Stonehenge all share a common theme in that they will all be bad for local wildlife. The Great Bustard Group (GBG) has worked hard to try and ensure the iconic Great Bustard is at least considered during the various meetings, consultations and reviews.

It has been an uphill battle with each new team of consultants or experts having to be identified and then briefed from scratch. One expert working for Highways England confidently announced they had been told there were no Great Bustards in the area.  GBG staff took them out and showed them over 15, almost in sight of the Stones. The next meeting comes along and there is a new face, who knows nothing about the birds.

A new threat to the recently restored population of Great Bustards now exists. Ground Water & Ecological surveys are taking place in the fields around Stonehenge. These are now involving teams in hi-viz clothing and vehicles with loud reversing beepers and they will be roving the fields used by some of the rarest birds in the UK for nesting.

That this should be taking place anywhere during the bird nesting season is concerning, but in an area with nesting Great Bustards and the rare and sensitive Stone Curlew it is particularly concerning.  The birds will either be denied the places to nest, or the worse scenario is that they will abandon their eggs due to the disturbance. The GBG was told about the latest works but only days after they had started.

No Great Bustards have been released within miles of Stonehenge and the birds have moved into the area naturally, and have nested there.

The GBG works closely with local farmers and land owners to do everything possible to ensure the Great Bustard nests are successful.

David Waters
Executive Officer
Great Bustard Group

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