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Land for Sale: [see here].

“The land offers itself for a variety of uses to include agricultural, amenity, equestrian and the potential for future residential development (subject to gaining planning permission)

 

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In normal circumstances, in most places, the possibility of residential development wouldn’t even be worth mentioning. But this is Shropshire …

A Personal post by Alan S.

Regular readers will know of my love for all things Cornish – in particular the prehistoric heritage of the Duchy area, which has been covered here from time to time.

I am pleased to say that, although it took much longer than originally anticipated after my first visit to the area in 2002, I am finally moving from the smoke of London to reside in Cornwall!

My nearest major monument upon arrival at my destination will be a major tor enclosure, occupied between 3700 and 3400 BC. The tor is visible from miles around and is a major landmark in the area, partly due to a 90ft Celtic Cross, erected on the summit of the tor as a memorial to Francis_Basset, 1st Baron de Dunstanville and Basset.

I’m talking of course, of Carn Brea, situated between Redruth and Camborne.

Valentine’s Series, Souvenir Post Card

The site was excavated in the early 1970’s by Roger Mercer, when traces of platforms for Neolithic long houses were found within the ramparts. In fact, the excavations coined the use of a new site type, ‘tor enclosure’, of which several further examples have since been identified within Cornwall.

Over 700 leaf-shaped flint arrowheads found clustered around the main entrance to the enclosure have been interpreted as one of the earliest indications of ‘warfare’, evidence that the site was attacked by warriors armed with bows and there were also suggestions that the houses had been burned down.

©Cornwall Historic Environment Service.

The hilltop has been the site of human activity through many periods since, with finds of Bronze Age tools, Iron Age (and much later) mining activity, and even a small number of Roman period finds.

There is a well on the northern slopes which is related to a folk tale of a Giant, who picked a fight with another nearby Giant, ‘Bolster’ who lived on St Agnes Beacon. This story is duplicated throughout Cornwall – the Giants of Trencrom and St Michael’s Mount for instance having a similar tale of combat.

To say I’m excited to be moving to the area would be an understatement, and I look forward to bringing  more news and stories of the Cornish prehistoric period to the Heritage Journal in future months.

 

A council in Cheshire has secured a ‘landmark ruling’ from the Supreme Court that will better protect green areas from speculative housing developments. The court judgement stated that ‘No one would naturally describe a recently approved green belt policy in a local plan as “out of date”, merely because the housing policies in another part of the plan fail to meet the NPPF objectives.’ Council leader Rachel Bailey commented:

‘I am proud that this council had the courage to pursue this action. This means that we can now better protect our local communities from speculative, unsustainable development by ensuring a proper approach to the application of planning policies.’

Meanwhile….

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Oswestry Hillfort is unlucky enough to be situated in the Dismal and Philistine Repugnate of Shropshireland.

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On the left, English Heritage’s new information board. On the right, the future. The two small developments have been dropped (they were standard Developers’ try-ons). The main one hasn’t.

In its recent draft Note 3: Historic Environment Good Practice Advice in Planning, Historic England explains how to implement Historic Environment planning policy. [NB, it advises how to implement Government policy, not how to do what’s right for heritage, a crucial distinction]. There’s lots of detail, though almost all the advice is left open for interpretation, particularly by those who wish to err on the side of development rather than conservation. However, one small section jumped out at us as being significant at Oswestry, since it provides little room for creative interpretation:

“Settings of heritage assets which closely resemble the setting at the time the asset was constructed or formed are likely to contribute particularly strongly to significance”

It is surely beyond honest dispute that the one defining characteristic of Oswestry Hillfort is that it was originally intended to dominate the surrounding land and that therefore the current open agricultural land, even if not like the original setting, is the very essence of the heritage significance of the monument, specifically because of its openness. It surely also follows, also beyond honest dispute, that adding a housing estate to that open land would greatly detract from the monument’s  central purpose and significance and detract from modern understanding of it.

Presumably, since the draft document’s stated purpose is “to provide information on good practice to assist local authorities, planning and other consultants, owners, applicants and other interested parties” Shropshire Council will now be aware of it. Will they take heed? Or lobby for it to be changed? Or just ignore it? The bulldozers or their absence will supply the answer.

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Archaeologist Dr George Nash of the Hands off Old Oswestry Hillfort group, puts it in a nutshell:

“I can’t accept that in a rural county like Shropshire, and particularly north Shropshire, we need this heavy impetus for building,” he said. “But if we are going to toe the line then we need affordable housing – housing that people can truly afford and on brownfield sites. Our heritage is under great threat from the too much development put in the wrong place. Every settlement, every village should help bear the load of the housing with new homes dispersed over the county rather than centred on the urban areas.”

Who can deny it? Or that the policy of allowing development next to Oswestry Hill Fort is entirely against the interests of the people of Oswestry and of Shropshire and indeed of Britain. But more to the point, it’s very, very dodgy.

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No chance, due to the dodgy machinations of Shropshire Council

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By the way, here’s another parcel of land currently on sale adjacent to the Hill Fort but on the other side.

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They wouldn’t, would they? Well, the sales particulars say “The land offers itself for a variety of uses to include agricultural, amenity, equestrian and the potential for future residential development (subject to gaining planning permission)” and this IS the most contemptible local authority in Britain – so who knows?

image-of-the-year                                                                          [Image by Alastair Reid]

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It’s a hieroglyph which says ordinary people love heritage but national guardians are too weak.

Hundreds of voices set to ring out from iconic Shropshire hillfort at annual heritage hug

-Community prepares to send out big message about heritage and greenspace for Valentine’s week-

Oswestry will be displaying its affection for local heritage and greenspace in a landmark initiative as part of annual celebrations devoted to Old Oswestry hillfort.

hillfort-hug-2017_poster

The town is aiming to encircle the 3,000-year-old Iron Age monument with a 1 km long chain of people and string of hearts with messages of appreciation for the hillfort from all parts of the community.

The ‘Hearts Around the Hillfort’ project is set to provide an eye-catching focus to this year’s hillfort hug on February 12, organised by the HOOOH Community Group.

hearts-around-the-hillfort_logo_text

“Red hearts are going out to schools, groups and organisations, as well as shops and public outlets,” said HOOOH member, Kate Clarke. “We are hoping that as many individuals as possible, from young to old, will donate a heart-felt message about the hillfort for this super-long bunting.”

She added: “It means that anyone unable to attend the hug in person can still play a part, especially older residents who may be less able to get out. Many of us have fond memories of the hillfort which this project aims to capture.”

The group is also keen for hearts in support of local greenspace and heritage in general.

John Waine of HOOOH said: “As the ancient heart of the town, the hillfort is an outstanding attraction presiding over Oswestry’s northern gateway. But it also forms part of a precious network of green environment, recreation fields and historical fabric vital to preserving Oswestry’s character and quality of life for residents. The bunting is an opportunity to reflect the importance of all of these assets and the community’s concerns that they are respected in local decision-making.”

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HOOOH estimates that around 650 people will be needed to form a complete human chain around the hillfort top. The group stresses that the event is being organised and stewarded with due care for the monument and people’s safety.

Now in its third year, the hug is part of a weekend of events taking place February 11 and 12 celebrating one of the country’s largest and best preserved hillforts. Old Oswestry has been acknowledged by eminent academics as the ‘Stonehenge of the Iron Age’ due to its importance to the archaeological understanding of Celtic Britain.

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A full day’s seminar will be held in Oswestry Memorial Hall on February 11 examining wider aspects of the hillfort’s role, including its natural heritage and ecology. Family workshops with a wildlife theme and an evening of live performance are also planned at Hermon Chapel. Further events exploring the hillfort’s flora and fauna are set to follow through 2017 under an educational initiative called the ‘Hillfort Watch’.

Allied group, Artists Hugging the Hillfort (AHH!), is currently showing a retrospective of hillfort initiatives and artwork called ‘Heritage Matters’ at the Oswestry Heritage and Exhibition Centre. Running until the end of February, it traces HOOOH’s evolution from campaign to community group working in the broadest interests of the hillfort.

Shops, outlet, groups and organisations who would like to participate in the ‘Hearts around the Hillfort’ initiative by making or collecting hearts should contact HOOOH on 01691 652918 or via its Facebook page (www.facebook.com/OldOswestryHillfort)

Remember we said Oswestry Hillfort would have been safe in West Oxfordshire or West Sussex? Now  you can add East Sussex too: “the Secretary of State also agrees with the Inspector’s conclusion that the scale of development proposed would have a harmful effect by eroding the existing clear sense of separation”. “A clear sense of separation” – which monument doesn’t deserve that? The massive one at Oswestry, it seems, even though The Heritage Impact Assessment said otherwise: “the  most  important  physical  element of  the  setting  is  the  belt  of  agricultural  land  which  surrounds  the  hill  fort  and is  perceived  as  part  of  the  monument”. (Note: belt, not crescent.) But this is Shropshireland. A decent gap (or even a derisory one) is bloody inconvenient – for how can you build on it? 

So is that why the document then does a triple backward summersault? “Any  suggestion  that  development  per  se  is  harmful  –  that  the  view  would  be ‘spoiled’  –  is  untenable,  since  this  would  not  be  a  response  based  on  a rational  assessment  of  impact  on  significance” and “Development of  the  site  is  a  logical  extension  of  the  urban  fringe,  and  the  montage  shows that  it  would  create  a  positive  edge  to  the  land  which  surrounds  the  hill  fort.” See? Keeping a gap would be “untenable” whereas building on it would be “logical” and “positive”. Amazing eh?

Plus, (lest you doubt this is part of a deliberate Shropshireland act of monumenticide) see this from section  7.2.46: “At  night,  the  orange  glow  of  street  lights  is  the dominant  feature,  and  the  hill  fort  is  not  visible.”  Why mention the sun goes down? You can’t get more blatantly pro-development than by dragging up the fact the hillfort is invisible in the dark (and invisible monuments don’t need green gaps!)

The hillfort at night (or with your eyes closed).

The hillfort at night (or with your eyes closed).

The clues that there’s something rotten in the state of Shropshireland have long been there. It’s not just the inconsistencies with other authorities. It’s the fact there were also early signs. Below is the Oswestry Town Plan from back in 2013 – “an informed and influential guide to developers, setting out what matters most to local people”. See how tightly it is drawn and ask yourself why it is offset so it’s more generous to the North and miniscule on the town side…..

oswestry-plan.

Then take a look at this, the subsequent development proposal. Oswestry Town Council opposed it. What a shame they didn’t realise earlier that the circle was so small it left a crucial gap – not for the monument but for the developers …..

oswestry-gap

[Finally, you might think that having realised the 2013 green circle was too small and had left a crucial gap for developers which they regretted, Oswestry wouldn’t have included the identical plan in their Town Plan 2020. But you’d be wrong. The implied open armed invitation to developers to come in and wreck the setting of the hillfort for grubby financial profit at public heritage cost is still there. Who was behind that convenient lack of change? No prizes for guessing.]

The Dismal Repugnate of Shropshireland eh? What an amazing place, so different from West Oxfordshire and West & East Sussex. Maybe the Government should take direct control?

Volunteers team up with English Heritage on hillfort maintenance

Local love for a Shropshire heritage site is being put to good use through a progressive new volunteering initiative. 

Earlier this year on Valentine’s Day, residents of Oswestry on the Shropshire/Wales border congregated on Old Oswestry hillfort in a symbolic hug of protection. Now they are turning their affection into hands-on support with the monument’s maintenance under the supervision of its national guardians, English Heritage.

Members of the HOOOH Community Group, which is promoting local engagement in Old Oswestry’s future, are recruiting volunteers to help English Heritage with landscape management and monitoring. Tasks will range from scrub clearance and pond maintenance, to taking fixed-point photos and supporting environmental initiatives to aid the hillfort’s preservation and upkeep.

(L to R): HOOOH Community Group volunteers Neil Phillips, Rob Baur and Katie Jones install a ‘No Bikes’ sign as their first task working with English Heritage.

(L to R): HOOOH Community Group volunteers Neil Phillips, Rob Baur and Katie Jones install a ‘No Bikes’ sign as their first task working with English Heritage.

English Heritage is also keen to work with other local organisations including colleges with expertise and interest in undertaking potential biodiversity and animal management initiatives on the fort.

The scheme is one of just a few in England involving local volunteers in landscape maintenance combined with environmental and wildlife initiatives at an English Heritage site. It is hoped that the success of the partnering at Old Oswestry will pave the way to more volunteering of this type, especially at unstaffed and more remote properties.

English Heritage is the charitable trust which cares for over 400 historic monuments, buildings and sites across the country – it became separate from Historic England, the government service championing and offering advice on heritage, in 2015. As part of its mission as a charity, English Heritage is committed to including the wider community in its work and expanding opportunities for volunteers. Currently, around 2,000 people are involved with volunteering at some 50 of its 400 sites.

Volunteer involvement

HOOOH Community Group member, Neil Phillips, and heritage adviser, Tim Malim, recently met with English Heritage representatives to discuss the scope of volunteer involvement.

English Heritage has an established management plan in place for the hillfort, though recent wet summers have impacted on control of undergrowth, particularly around the ‘ponds’ or pits on the western side. New gates installed in 2015 have improved access for the landscape contractor. An additional log bench is due to be installed this year by the ‘floating’ path at the western entrance.

During a tour of the hillfort, plans were discussed for clearing overgrown areas, especially bracken, with minimal disturbance to wildlife. This would include an annual cutback of willow and woody growth in the winter, and control of bracken in the summer.

A newt and ecology survey was undertaken earlier this year to help assess what additional tasks can be tackled, and when, alongside regular grounds maintenance during the next 12 months. English Heritage will be updating its landscape maintenance plan to offer a range of opportunities for volunteers, including a programme of pond clearance this autumn.

Volunteers, with Maggie Rowlands and Tim Malim in the foreground, get to grips with locations for taking monitoring photography on the hillfort.

Volunteers, with Maggie Rowlands and Tim Malim in the foreground, get to grips with locations for taking monitoring photography on the hillfort.

Tim Malim said: “Managing the earthworks is a complex mission, with the need to balance several conflicting interests. Uncontrolled vegetation is a threat to the monument, and one of the best methods for managing this is through grazing the ramparts. But access to water and steep slopes make this difficult without unsightly fencing being introduced.

“Another balance has to be achieved between wildlife and the historic monument. There is a need to control the rabbit population and cut down scrub undergrowth and bracken, while maintaining habitats for newts and linnets at critical times in the year.”

English Heritage West is responsible for over 135 scheduled and listed sites across a substantial area stretching from the Scilly Isles to Cheshire.  The Charity is keen to involve local groups and volunteers as “outreach caretakers” to undertake maintenance tasks and site monitoring.

As a first task, HOOOH volunteers have installed ‘No Bikes’ signs to deter bikers from scrambling over the 3000-year-old scheduled earthwork and causing severe erosion scars. Help is also being sought with a fixed-point photography project to document the impact of on-going maintenance work.

Push-bikes are prohibited as a new safeguard against damage to the 3000-year-old monument which is known as ‘The Stonehenge of the Iron Age’.

Push-bikes are prohibited as a new safeguard against damage to the 3000-year-old monument which is known as ‘The Stonehenge of the Iron Age’.

Before leaving, the English Heritage team visited the Artists Hugging the Hillfort exhibition at the Willow Gallery in Oswestry. With over 60 art pieces, including work by local school children, they were impressed by the local pride and strength of feeling shown for Old Oswestry.

Volunteer Neil Phillips said: “As one of many local people that have been inspired by Old Oswestry since childhood, this is a constructive and rewarding way to be more closely involved in its conservation. The HOOOH Community Group is proud to contribute through the volunteers’ initiative, following the example of the town’s archaeology and history groups, as well as the hillfort landscape improvement project, which have long championed the hillfort.”

Anyone who would like to volunteer should contact Mr Phillips in the first instance on 07751 160576.

 

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