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A guest post by Dr George Nash, from the Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort campaign.

Most readers of this blog will be fully aware of the shenanigans of Shropshireland’s planning department, in particular the way they are handling the so-called SAMDev fiasco. As a result of their far from honest bid to develop housing around the eastern side of Old Oswestry Hillfort, Shropshireland’s reputation goes from bad to damn right bloody awful.

The campaign group Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort (HOOOH) has been entrenched in a battle to save the setting of one of England’s most iconic archaeological structures – Old Oswestry Hillfort.

The hillfort has been designated a Scheduled Monument (SM) along with the nearby early medieval linear defence system Wat’s Dyke. In addition to these two internationally important sites, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has identified over 100 findspots within the hinterlands including several Roman coin hoards. The landscape to the south and east (as well as within the central area of the hillfort) was an important World War I training area that belonged to the nearby Park Hall military camp.

One would think that such a cluster of sites and their mutual/shared landscape would be afforded some form of protection. However, according to Shropshireland’s planning supremos this is not the case. Indeed, without the huge condemnation from an outraged public and heritage community, Shropshireland would have sanctioned a masterplan development that would have extended eastwards from within 85m of the ramparts to the new A5 (the Bypass).

OSW004

One can almost forgive the landowner wanting to cash-in on the current ambiguous planning guidance – National Planning Policy Guidance (NPPF). What cannot be forgiven, though, is the murky relationship between Shropshireland, Historic England and the planning consultancy acting on behalf of the landowner. The fact that national guidance does consider setting as an essential factor in determining potential development (see for yourself – PDF link) seems to have been completely ignored by Shropshireland and to some extent by Historic England.

By the way Historic England (formally English Heritage) consulted on NPPF, prior to publication in March 2012 and therefore the situation should be clear-cut. Errr, well, not exactly.

When one delves back into the distant past, to those heady days of 2006 and 2007 when all this development malarkey around the hillfort kicked off, the planning process in terms of archaeology and cultural heritage appeared to recognise the importance of the surrounding landscape. So a geophysical survey and subsequent evaluation programme were duly commissioned.

Now at this point, one would think this initial process to understand the archaeological landscape would be straightforward. Alas, no, not in dear old Shropshireland. Of the 24 trenches commissioned, only 14 were actually excavated, all east of the old A5 – I wonder why? Of the 14, only several were actually excavated over known anomalies that were identified from the geophysical survey. One area of high archaeological activity, coincidentally within OSW004, was completely ignored. The results from the archaeological evaluation must have been music to Shropshireland’s planning supremos, the landowner and his rather expensive planning team.

But does it end there? Actually no, readers. Not exactly.

Enter stage left HOOOH, the campaign group which, playing by the rules from the start, has battled with Shropshireland’s planners for the past two years. Working with this group, we have tried to get a fair hearing concerning the many contentious issues which have clinched serial coverage in the local and national press.

One would have thought that this bad publicity would have provoked a reaction from the planners. Well, not surprisingly, there has been little, apart from a lot of misinformation mainly from a number of press statements from Shropshireland’s leader, Councillor Barrow, who appears to know very little about cultural heritage, apart from, say, the yogurt in his fridge.

In my experience, I have never encountered such an arrogant local authority that seems to think it is above the planning guidance laws of England (well, they are Shropshireland, so I suppose they can do as they please). Their shenanigans include an unbalanced approach to information uploaded on the SAMDev website that only supports the development; murky emails, exposed through Freedom of Information (FOI) between themselves, Historic England and the landowner’s planners; and the apparent selective release of the site promoter’s evidence including commissioned reports.

When one stands back and witnesses how and what information between these characters has been circulated, plus the various inadequate processes involved, one begins to realise that bigger things are afoot.

Certainly from an archaeological and cultural heritage point of view, the work so far has been shoddy at best and I suspect there is a clear intentionality to see any archaeology produce negative results (don’t take my word for it, look at the evaluation trench distribution undertaken in 2007).

As for the setting issues, this is even clearer-cut. Old Oswestry Hillfort is a Scheduled Monument, regarded as one of England’s finest Iron Age hillforts; probably second only to Maiden Castle. There is clear guidance on setting in NPPF (and recently published Historic Environment Good Practice Advice 2015) and any development within the hinterlands of the hillfort would impact on setting; severely, in fact, according to a recent LVIA study. But funnily enough, Shropshireland planners can’t seem to see this one. Thankfully and now coming to its senses, Historic England does.

Me thinks there is a wee rat scurrying around the corridors of power in Shropshireland’s planning department. We are all aware of the size of Shropshire – it’s a big place. We are also fully aware (and accept) the need for a five year housing supply. In the words of Central Government let’s build ourselves out of recession. Hey, so far I am with you, all the way.

But why build around this side of Oswestry, within close proximity of the hillfort? Surely there are many brownfield sites out there – look at the land-banking for starters? I mean, 10,000 people are against it; eminent academic and professional archaeologists are against it; Oswestry Town Council is overwhelmingly against it; in fact, everyone except Shropshireland can see it.

They have stated in SAMDev and the press that they do not accept that ‘proposed development would result in substantial harm to the significance of the hillfort.’ However, the rat within Shropshireland’s corridor of power informs me that Old Oswestry Hillfort could be an important test-case for developers to target other heritage assets. If we – the Common Sense Brigade – lose this battle, Shropshireland and other discredited authorities will see this particular potential victory as a green light for indiscriminate development bids affecting heritage assets up and down the country; in other words, NPPF would become a developer’s charter.

This sinister policy is government-led and I dare say the nods and winks are, as you read this rant, slowly trickling down into the sewer that is Shropshireland’s planning department.

Rats!

As previously used in this Blog, ‘you couldn’t make it up’.

From a distance, British Camp is just one of many peaks comprising the Malvern Hills and tends to go unnoticed amongst the others.

malverns

Closer up it becomes clear that it’s a monument to be reckoned with, a series of two thousand year old ramparts surmounted by a Norman motte and commanding extraordinary views to Wales in one direction and the Cotswolds in the other, described by 17th Century diarist John Evelyn as “one of the godliest vistas in England”.

British Camp1

According to folklore it was the place where the ancient British chieftan Caractacus made his last stand against the Romans – although historians think it more likely to have been a few miles away on Caradoc in Shropshire. Still, it was probably built by him and was an auspicious location and home to thousands of people for a number of centuries.

A ringwork and bailey castle was built within the camp, possibly by the last Anglo Saxon monarch, the future King Harold II a few years before he met his end at Hastings. 200 years later the Earl of Gloucester (prompted by a boundary dispute with the Bishop of Hereford) built the Shire Ditch to the North and South of British Camp (possible on the line of a prehistoric trackway).

In modern times composer Elgar became closely associated with the Malverns and was inspired by the folklore to compose his cantata Caractacus. The status of Malvern as a spa town and literary centre and particularly Elgar’s friendships have meant that a host of famous figures have visited the hills and British Camp, including JRR Tolkein (who may have based the White Mountains of Gondor on the hills) and CS Lewis (who is said to have been inspired by a Malvern lampost he saw while walking back from the pub with Tolkein to write about the lampost in Narnia!) So if you want to experience “one of the godliest vistas in England” and follow in the footsteps of many famous people you’d better get up there!

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.

Following on from her extended series of posts in 2013, and a visit last year, once again Sue Brooke has revisited Caerau hillfort in Cardiff, to report upon this year’s activities there with a much more personal view. 

Since 2007 I have been researching the local area around Caerau. You may recall that I discovered what was to be later confirmed as at least an Iron Age hillfort, right over my garden fence. Much to the amusement of family and friends I waxed lyrical about this field full of lumps and bumps, cow poo and bitey insects. Although not exactly ‘preserved in public record’ as they say, this was well hidden and completely forgotten about so I was desperately trying to keep it secret and therefore protected. Of course Time Team later came and showed it in all its wall mounted, 48 inch, HD screen beauty, then went away again.

CAER Heritage Project and Cardiff University have however been periodically running community digs and generally involving the local community in the work they have been carrying out over the last three years or so and local interest has been increased. Their website shows the work that has gone on, not only in the field but in local centres and schools. Now and then local press picks up the story and it even pops up on local news. The really lovely thing about this work is that it involves everyone who is interested. Groups of primary school children through to older people have all taken a real interest in the site and become involved at various levels.

Me? Well, I moved away from the area recently. It was really sad to leave my garden fence behind and I do miss the trees as well as the mystery of what they would tell me if they could speak. But, I’m not that far away so I am still involved in keeping a close eye on what is going on. I go to the community events up at the site and still spend time wandering around with my camera.  I still research the local history there and am still turning up really interesting information about the people who lived in the area and how it links to other sites nearby as well as a little bit further away.

On the 4th of July the project held a Big Picnic. The original idea of this was to replicate the old Christian tradition of the Whitsun Treat which used to be held in the field at Pentecost.  This is still fondly remembered by locals. I’m not sure if this is a Welsh thing but it involved local children being transported to various sites, clutching a spoon with their name taped to the handle and a bag of something that their mum or Nan (very important people are Welsh Nan’s!) had made that they would share.  It was about coming together and having fun.

As well as the Big Picnic there would be a parade today with stalls, face painting, information on finds and tours of the ongoing excavations. Now, my grandson is really ‘into’ history. He has recently visited Castell Henllys in Pembrokeshire and has, I am very proud to say, developed a really impressive (for an 11 year old) knowledge of Welsh early history.  He asks questions, reads real books and takes it all in. He came with us with promises that I’d show him all the ditches and ramparts that had set my own imagination off and started this whole thing going for me in the first place. So, off we went.

A new brown heritage site arrow has appeared – pointing the way to the hill from the main road that runs through Caerau. Just in case you miss it there is another a little further on. This secret triangular shaped field of ‘mine’ is most certainly not such a secret any more.

Caerau Sign

There were quite a few cars parked at the entrance to the site and we were met by two lovely students who welcomed us on our way up. That walk up is getting steeper, I’m sure. I was a little surprised at the cars that were allowed up the lane, meaning I had to ensure we were safely out of the way – I tutted at one point, I admit – but at least it gave me a minute to stand and get my breath back.  The view as you round the final bend never fails to impress me and I’ve been up there many, many times.

Caerau event

The entrance to the field was set up with the promised stalls and it was all very busy with a real sense of community.   CAER’s Olly Davies (beautifully face painted by Glamorgan and Gwent Archaeological Trust artists) and Dave Wyatt were in the middle of it all so it was nice to catch up. We were able to see some of the more recent finds. What is particularly nice is that it’s possible to actually hold these in your hand, rather than peer at them through the glass of a museum case, although that’s probably where they will find a home eventually. At least I hope so, rather than end up in a box on a shelf somewhere.  The extremely knowledgeable and really friendly young women in charge there are able to tell you not just what you are holding but also where they were found, what the significance is and how they have made them look presentable. It was also good in that, for me, the star find from last year (the Neolithic flint arrow head) was also brought back home for the day.

Caerau Flint

A handout was provided to enable understanding of the objectives for this year, entitled ‘Digging Caerau’ – not exactly my most favourite phrase. Nonetheless, five areas of the field are being examined this year – four of which have been previously examined and re-opened for further investigation. One new area is being examined to ‘explore what appears on the geophysics to be a boundary probably dating to the Roman period.’ Guided tours were being given to small groups but we wandered off on our own to see what was going on. Well, it is my field, after all!

My biggest concern prior to the Time Team investigations was that my hillfort would be dug up. Mr Cadw Inspector reassured me that this would not happen. I’ve seen the finds that have come out of the ground, so to speak, and found them fascinating. From my grandsons perspective he was thrilled to wander around and to see postholes within the trench, confirming that this was an area that people had actually lived in. As you may know, for local historians like me the people are as important as the place.  But, the site itself, for me, is losing its special character. It is changing, losing its ‘feel’ underfoot and the magic of the lumps and bumps is fading along with the brown scarring of the excavated trench areas.

Since Welsh Nan’s are very important I had wandered off with the lad to show him how to interpret the various aspects of the site that had really grabbed my attention way back in 2007. But now, whilst the ramparts are still clearly visible one inner rampart now has a ditch cut through it. Please don’t misunderstand; it’s a really painstakingly created section from which the archaeologists are intending to gain dating evidence and environmental samples. But to me it’s a whacking great chunk out of the rampart that really won’t be the same once it’s refilled.

Caerau section

This is really evident in the beautiful ditch that once swept across part of the site. You couldn’t fail to see it and it was really easy to photograph. It looked like something special to me. Trouble is it looked like something special to Time Team and the other diggers too, so now it’s gone. I’ve since looked back over some of my early writing and the phrase ‘it’s quite possible to see ditches and ramparts untouched’ really jumps out. I wanted my grandson to experience that sense of standing in or on something special. Something that made a person curious and excited about what may have been there, who may have built it, why and when.  To me that sense of excitement has gone now as not all of those lumps and bumps are there any more – I feel that is really quite sad.

I completely understand that archaeology is a science. Indeed, my own first degree is a Bachelor of Science (with honours, obviously!) but my science is more social, of ordinary people and of ordinary places.  So whilst the archaeologists are looking  down into mucky holes getting dirt under their fingernails I can be found looking through dusty old books, looking up and out and, quite often across.  Both, whilst different perspectives, should complement each other in being able to tell the story of a place and understand the people who lived within it.  But, and this is a big but, I don’t think digging things up, taking them away and, as a result of this changing the really special characteristics of the site will benefit anyone in the end. Perhaps I just have an emotional attachment to this hillfort but to me it all feels really selfish.

Moving on…

All in all my grandson enjoyed his day. He was able to get an idea of the hillfort from the Lidar images and the visual representations on show, ask questions about how a roof was put on the roundhouses, look into trenches and to see the burial mounds clearly visible on the mountain opposite. He took photos and met with ‘real’ archaeologists. He was (reasonably) impressed with his Nan’s knowledge and perhaps gained a different perspective of the site from that. I just have this nagging feeling that he would have enjoyed it quite a bit more if he could have felt what I did when I first went into that field. It was only eight years ago.

As we left Olly came to chat and asked what I was doing now – I explained I had moved house recently but that I had a found a new site of interest that I felt linked in to the Caerau site. His eyes lit up and he asked where, I told him to b*gger off, there is no way he is digging this one up…

Many thanks to Sue for this report of her day out to revisit an old favourite. Have you recently revisited a favourite site? Or are you planning to do so during this year’s Festival of Archaeology? If so, why not submit a short article and share your visit with others on the Heritage Journal?

The strength and quality of the case against development within the setting of Old Oswestry hillfort seems to grow day by day. The Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort (Twitter: @OldOswestryFort #HOOOH) Facebook campaign and the powerful recent article in the Guardian suggest that this is no usual fight. It is possible it will be taken into Europe as it is being seen as having relevance on both a local and national level. In the words of Sir Barry Cunliffe: “It is worth making a fuss about this particular issue because it does look like the thin end of the wedge. There would be nothing really to stop developing land right up to the very boundary of some of our major archaeological sites.”

The latest development is a comment by Dr Mike Heyworth, Director of the CBA, about the image below: “The maps showing the location of known archaeological sites and find spots around the hillfort is very powerful. It shows that there is a lot of related archaeology in the area immediately surrounding the hillfort which will be potentially damaged by any development.”

HER Os

All-in-all the campaign is causing the attitude of Shropshire Council to look increasingly unreasonable. Compare and contrast the concerns of both the public and a whole body of senior archaeologists with the recent statement by a Shropshire Council spokesman: The sensitivity of the Old Oswestry Hill Fort and its setting have been recognised by Shropshire council throughout its local plan-making process, which started in 2010. However, Shropshire council does not accept that proposed development would result in substantial harm to the significance of the hill fort.”  Does the Council have concerns about its own national and international reputation? Let us all hope so.

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Oooh, and look …. (Image credit Maggie Rowlands)….

The developers have taken precautions to ensure there are no more “find spots” for archaeologists to talk about!

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find spots

Seriously, you couldn’t! Historic England has just issued an advice note “to support those involved in the Local Plan site allocation process in implementing historic environment legislation“. Bearing in mind the disastrous fruits of the Local Plan allocation process adjacent to what English Heritage says is “one of the greatest archaeological monuments of the nation” it’s well worth examining the advice.

You may recall English Heritage/Heritage England have consistently expressed concern about the proposed development but have consistently sought to find ways to mitigate its effect not to actually oppose it. You may also care to note that a spokesperson for Shropshire Council has just provided The Observer with this amazing statement: The sensitivity of the Old Oswestry Hill Fort and its setting have been recognised by Shropshire council throughout its local plan-making process, which started in 2010. However, Shropshire council does not accept that proposed development would result in substantial harm to the significance of the hill fort.”

Bearing that in mind, please read Historic England’s advice. Take this section for instance…..

• The Local Plan should set out a positive strategyfor the conservation and enjoyment of the historic environment, in which the desirability of sustaining and enhancing the significance of heritage assets should be considered (NPPF paragraph 126); the associated statutory duty regarding the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of a conservation area must be considered in this regard (S72, Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990);

• Development will be expected to avoid or minimise conflict between any heritage asset’s conservation and any aspect of the proposal (NPPF paragraph 129);
• Great weight should be given to an asset’s conservation and the more important the asset, the greater the weight to the asset’s conservation there should be (NPPF paragraph 132);
• Harm should always be avoided in the first instance. Only where this is not possible should mitigation be considered (NPPF paragraph 152). Any harm and mitigation proposals need to be fully justified and evidenced to ensure they will be successful in reducing harm.
• The Local Plan should set out a positive strategy for the conservation and enjoyment of the historic environment, in which the desirability of sustaining and enhancing the significance of heritage assets should be considered (NPPF paragraph 126); the associated statutory duty regarding the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of a conservation area must be considered in this regard (S72, Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990);
• Development will be expected to avoid or minimise conflict between any heritage asset’s conservation and any aspect of the proposal (NPPF para graph 129);
• Great weight should be given to an asset’s conservation and the more important the asset, the greater the weight to the asset’s conservation there should be (NPPF paragraph 132);
• Harm should always be avoided in the first instance. Only where this is not possible should mitigation be considered (NPPF paragraph 152). Any harm and mitigation proposals need to be fully justified and evidenced to ensure they will be successful in reducing harm.

Which bit of that lot is NOT breached by building an estate in the hillfort’s setting? It seems to us that either English Heritage or Heritage England or Shropshire Council or all of them aren’t following that advice. Words are cheap, aren’t they?

Just received, a Press release from the Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort campaign:

Shropshire residents fighting planned housing by Old Oswestry hillfort say they are encouraged after meeting MP Owen Paterson to discuss the issues.

Campaign group HOOOH met recently with the North Shropshire MP to voice their concerns over the controversial site for 117 houses (OSW004) in Shropshire’s SAMDev local plan.

“We had a very constructive discussion with Mr Paterson, impressing on him that this is an issue not just of local but of national interest,” said campaigner and archaeologist Dr George Nash.

Mr Paterson agreed to write to Shropshire Council about residents’ contentions that inclusion of OSW004 in SAMDev has not complied with due process or planning guidelines, and their belief that the Council has misunderstood national planning policy. He will also be writing to Communities Secretary, Greg Clark, over the issues that Old Oswestry raises given its scheduled status regarding the interpretation of the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework).

Campaign advisor and heritage planning expert, Tim Malim, said: “If the Council’s decision to allocate housing in the setting of a heritage asset as significant as Old Oswestry is implemented, then it sets a dangerous precedent for protected monuments across the country which the NPPF is meant to safeguard.”

Local campaigners have been waging a bitter three-year fight against ‘masterplanning’ for the north of Oswestry which formerly included land within 85m of the hillfort.

Oswestry view

Despite making a strong appeal to SAMDev examining Inspector Claire Sherratt at a public hearing last December, OSW004 (off Whittington Road) remains in Shropshire’s development blueprint.

HOOOH claims that the site promoter has never submitted a justification for OSW004 as a standalone development, and that it has only ever been put forward as part of a coordinated scheme with sites at Jasmine Gardens and Oldport Farm. These were removed from the plan at an earlier stage.

Campaigners say that delivery of houses on OSW004 is predicated on a now obsolete planning bid and would be dependent on planning applications for sites that are not in SAMDev.

The Inspector’s plan modifications are out for consultation until Monday 13 July, 2015.

ENDS

 

Situated 160m above sea level, the Castle Canyke hillfort to the southeast of Bodmin in Cornwall, is not an imposing hillfort. Certainly not as imposing as, say, Old Oswestry Hillfort. And yet they have something in common – both are currently threatened by developers.

Although it is Cornwall’s largest Iron Age hill fort, Castle Canyke is certainly not as large as Oswestry – there is a small modern farm building at the centre of the fort, and walls/hedges running from this building split the fort into four roughly equal fields. The southwest quandrant boundary is the best preserved, with a large bank and small ditch. In the northwest (which provides public access via a kissing gate) the ditch is more substantial, but there is no bank remaining. To the south there are a couple of large industrial estates, to the east, the junctions of the A38 and A30 trunk roads dominate. Brown Willy & Roughtor are visible on the horizon just east of north on a clear day.

Satellite image taken from Bing Maps

Satellite image taken from Bing Maps

So nothing too remarkable, and not a lot to see on site itself, And yet there is a possible Arthurian connection, and a later historical connection which make this site important for the Cornish nation.

  • The site is a possible candidate for Kelliwic (Celliwig), Arthur’s court in “Culhwch and Olwen” and the Welsh Triads. Callywith Wood is located about a mile to the Northeast.
  • The fort is also the site where Cornish forces mustered for the Anglo-Cornish War of 1549. Nine hundred Cornishmen were subsequently executed in what has been described as “a bloodbath and the most heinous crime ever committed on British soil”

So what of the development threat here? According to the “It’s Our Cornwall” Facebook page:

Last week the Council’s Strategic Planning Committee voted by 17 votes to 2 to give Hawkstone Ltd of Surrey permission to build 750 houses at Bodmin (And a hotel, pub, shops, community building, allotments and public open space). This was despite only 1 in 4 of the houses being ‘affordable’ and calls for rejection from English Heritage.

According to one press report, “due to the steep topography of the site, it would not be financially viable for developers to adhere to the normal demand that 40 per cent of the homes should be in the affordable bracket. Instead, a compromise figure of 25 per cent, which amounts to 187 affordable homes, was reached”.

Apparently a ‘green buffer’ has also been suggested between the development and the hillfort (basically the three fields to the southeast on the plan below), but there is some discussion as to whether the buffer should consist of open space, sports fields, or be left as agricultural land. The full text of the Strategic Planning Committee’s Report can be found on the Council website (PDF link)

As can be seen, the original plan was to have built over part of the scheduled monument area.

As can be seen, the original plan was to have built over part of the scheduled monument area.

And there’s the question of the extent of the development. 750 homes in one of the most economically depressed areas in Europe sounds like a good idea to stimulate ‘growth’, but as only 1 in 4 will be designated ‘affordable’ – how I hate that word – who will be able to afford the non-affordable homes in such an area? The usual answer to such a question is larger corporations. But in order to get a return on their investment, they’ll either sell them on (who to?) or let them out at inflated rents. With very low employment and pay levels in the area, it’s difficult to see how local people will be able to live in the homes, however pleasant they may be.

Once again, it seems the only people to benefit will be the developers themselves, and to hell with the heritage!

Our friends at campaign group Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort (HOOH) have today issued the following press release:

Campaigners say new doubts hang over Shropshire Council’s handling of proposed housing by Old Oswestry hillfort as planners come under fire for alleged misuse of delegated powers (Shropshire Star report 30 May 2015). 

The backlash comes as government-appointed Inspector, Claire Sherratt, revealed her findings (1 June 2015) on Shropshire’s development blueprint SAMDev. Despite overwhelming public opposition during three years of consultation, a large housing site (OSW004) in the shadow of the 3,000 year old Iron Age hillfort remains on the plan.

P1220029b

Meanwhile, Shropshire planners face claims that they are misusing delegated powers by rubber stamping contentious schemes where objections have been raised that should be referred to planning committee.  The latest involves a legal challenge over the demolition of a 200-year-old Thomas Telford tollhouse in Oswestry to make way for an ALDI supermarket.

Campaign group Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort (HOOOH) says this new revelation must call into question the integrity of decision-making in other areas, most significantly SAMDev. And scrutiny should go back to the very start to ask how development by the hillfort was ever included as a ‘preferred option’, challenge campaigners.

HOOOH member Maggie Rowlands said: “The latest crisis simply reinforces our grave concerns over the cavalier planning culture within Shropshire Council. It has virtually cast itself loose of the opinion of elected councillors and the public in order to fast-track insensitive development on heritage landscape and prime greenfield land.”

Campaigners suggest that hard steers by Shropshire planners and Cabinet, including the imperative of meeting five-year housing supply, may have fettered the discretion of councillors to motion for removal of OSW004 from the plan. This was despite being circulated with alternative heritage reports by HOOOH, produced to industry standards, calculating that development would have major impacts on the setting of the hillfort and views to and from it.

Heritage setting is recognised in national planning and Historic England (formerly English Heritage) guidance and protected in law according to the significance of the heritage asset. This should provide major weight against the approval of development affecting a monument of the national significance of Old Oswestry, whose landscape setting is an integral part of its heritage value and archaeology.

In spite of repeated requests, Shropshire planners refused to post HOOOH’s reports on the SAMDev website alongside the site promoter’s original heritage impact assessment. The latter was strongly criticised for being flawed by experts at RESCUE (The British Archaeological Trust) and was subsequently revised.

And while failing to answer HOOOH’s challenge that OSW004 did not meet five-year supply criteria due to ‘unresolved issues’, planners later revealed it was not part of five-year figures for that very reason.

“We are not surprised that Shropshire planners find themselves at the centre of these accusations of undemocratic conduct and calls for restraint,” said campaigner Dr George Nash.

“Based on recent media reports, it is clear that councillors at all levels and across the political spectrum are extremely disappointed in the way Shropshire Council’s planning department exercise their decision-making.”

He added: “This now gives us additional teeth to challenge what we believe has been a calculated bias towards keeping OSW004 in SAMDev. We believe that the original heritage assessment that carried the site through several stages of the process must be the subject of a formal independent review. Oswestry Town Council asked for this over a year ago and was completely disregarded.“

Commenting on the Inspector’s decision, HOOOH says it is extremely disappointed that the Inspector has rejected the scale of public opposition to OSWOO4 and the strong heritage case against it. This included a petition with almost 6,000 signatures and objections by twelve leading British academics of archaeology in an open letter.

Campaigner Neil Phillips said: “The planning plight to develop 117 houses within the shadow of Old Oswestry Hillfort is the thin end of the wedge.

“The use of the NPPF to sanction development over the preservation of such significant heritage landscape was surely not the government’s intention. However, the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ is propping up greedy bids to build high profit housing with postcard views of hillforts, meres and parkland.

“Whitehall needs to intervene now before the Best of Britain disappears under brick and concrete in the present rush to build houses.”

.end

Today we thought we’d re-publish an article from a while back. It illustrates how vital it is to continue to fight against housing within the hillfort’s setting – and to see some of the claims that are about to be made for what they are – meaningless smokescreens to aid someone to make loads of money at the expense of everyone else’s heritage. .

“If I eat your toes your legs will be safe!”

Trust me, I'm a developer!

Trust me, I’m a developer!

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Oswestry is turning into a fantasy world. Eddie Bowen, from Bowen Son and Watson, one of the development agents, has said: “There is a golden opportunity here. At the moment nobody knows what will happen from a farming point of view, but once this is done that is it. There would be a public open space around it [the hillfort] and that will secure it for the future.” In case you don’t quite take it in, he is saying that building houses round the hill fort will provide a protective ring within which no-one will build houses! . Seasoned observers of developerspeak are saying they haven’t heard such stuff since the days when those masters of the dark art, Tarmac PLC, used to claim that opencast mining round the Thornborough Henges would be good for them!

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There is NO golden opportunity here, no chance to establish a sacrosanct buffer zone, no-one can say another assault won’t ever be mounted by someone that wants to make money. If you hear it said in the next few weeks or months (and we suspect you will) it won’t make it the truth. Not that anyone should be surprised by tricky words at Oswestry. It was there that the Reverend Spooner was educated. They say he once said “You have hissed all my mystery lectures”. Maybe the people of Oswestry should say to Eddie: “We ciss on your ponservation claims….”

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