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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.
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.
By the way, here’s another parcel of land currently on sale adjacent to the Hill Fort but on the other side.
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?
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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 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…..
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 …..
[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Oswestry carve-up of the public’s heritage (courtesy of the developers, Shropshire Council and English Heritage/Historic England) continues apace. The latest reminder of just why development shouldn’t be happening near the hill fort comes here, a list of no less than 14 reasons its setting should be sacrosanct. Each of them is compelling but we thought we should highlight one in particular. Dirty tricks are well known chez Shropshire but this one doesn’t even try to hide itself.
….. A “hub for artefact finds” with “over 100 findspots reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme” yet here’s a photograph of a man from the BBC and the leader of HOOOH and the Director General of the Council for British Archaeology contemplating a sign that now ensures no further finds will be unearthed until permission has been well and truly secured. How is that different from telling the police you’d rather they didn’t dig up your patio? Answers to Historic England.
Surely not? Well yes, it seems so. For after years of defending Stonehenge (“Don’t sell Stonehenge short”) the Trust has stabbed the World Heritage Site in the back by coming out in support of a short tunnel. The Government has admitted the u-turn has been pivotal so if the tunnel goes ahead the Trust’s finger prints will be on it forever, and they know it.
It’s the knowing which connects them to Shropshire Council. The latter have worked tirelessly to allow the land around Oswestry hillfort to be built on while knowing they shouldn’t. How do we know they know? Well, just last week their barrister Sarah Clover told a public enquiry (in Oswestry, ironically) that building 68 houses over in Ellesmere would constitute harm to the open countryside”. So both organisations know they’re on the wrong side of right.
BTW, here’s what Private Eye thinks of the Dismal Undemocratic Repugnate of Shropshireland:
Nicely put. Maybe they’ll do a job on the Trust too. Not only is it supporting heritage damage at Stonehenge it has also just let a previously expelled rule-breaking hunt back on it’s land on Exmoor. Tally ho! The Dismal Undemocratic Repugnate of Trustland – preserving the land in it’s care for ever, for everyone. Even cruel sods.
Foothold (fo͝ot′hōld′) noun: A firm or secure position that provides a base for further advancement.
What has that to do with Oswestry? Well, here’s the land all the fuss is about, as seen from the top of the hillfort. Pretty bad, yes?
But in fact it’s only a foothold. Here it is, shown in blue.
You can be absolutely certain that if OSWOO4 squeezes through then in a very short time the developers will push hard to develop the other areas, shown in red. Why can we all be so certain? Because they’ve already tried immensely hard to do so and at no point have they said they won’t do so again. The HOOOH website has just published compelling evidence that the developers’ agents have already started that process.
Mendacious moneymen, conniving councils and gutless guardians all use precedents as crutches to support what is otherwise unsupportable. OSWOO4 is most certainly a precedent in waiting. A foothold. If there’s anyone left in Oswestry or anywhere else who thinks building on OSWOO4 is no big deal let them look at the above image.
For one night only, Hillfort Live! is reinventing the tribute act for the 21st century, by taking it all the way back to the 3rd century – BC.
At Oswestry’s Hermon Arts Centre on February 13, the Iron Age will become the new rock and roll for an evening of entertainment celebrating Old Oswestry.
Expect the unconventional as musicians and performers doff their artistic hats to Oswestry’s iconic hillfort, recently dubbed the ‘Stonehenge of the Iron Age’.
The eclectic programme of music and performance, with a tinge of comedy, is part of the Old Oswestry Hillfort Hug Weekend organised by campaign group, HOOOH, and running February 13 to 14.
The line-up includes The Improetry Collective, a collaboration of musicians with Neil McKeown performing classic poetry with a hillfort twist.
There will also be improvised drama making reference to the hillfort from Pimp$ouls, aka Terry and Dru Cripps. Newly formed Oswestry Jazz Orchestra will be performing modern jazz and improvisations.
Old Oswestry textures will also feature in original tracks written by Guy Turner, and the Iron Age meets electronica and drum and bass in compositions performed by producer, Envelope.
In ‘An Audience with Old Oswestry’, musician and T-shirt philosopher, Neil Phillips, will take an alternative look at the hillfort’s current woes over planned housing in its back garden.
This prehistoric night out to remember starts at 7.30pm and admission is free.