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A campaign group has accused authorities of staggering double standards over development affecting Shropshire’s historic landscape.
The backlash comes as Shropshire Council’s conservation department and Historic England rally to object to development skirting Caer Caradoc hillfort near Church Stretton in the south of the County.
Meanwhile, the two bodies have signed an outline agreement in Shropshire’s SAMDev local plan for 117 houses across the landscape of Old Oswestry hillfort in the north, despite fresh acknowledgement from leading academics of its national importance.
Shropshire Council conservation officer, Berwyn Murray, has argued that an application for 85 homes at Caer Caradoc will impact the hillfort and valley as well as a nearby grade II listed 18th century farmhouse. He cites concerns that the proposed development will “urbanise the currently open and agricultural wider setting.” John Yates, an inspector for Historic England, has also objected, saying that the hillfort would be “closer to the suburbs, and less rural” if the housing goes ahead.
Maggie Rowlands of campaign group, HOOOH (Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort), said: “We are encouraged that strong objections are being made in defence of these wonderful historic assets and rural landscape in Church Stretton. But the same arguments can and should be applied in the case of Old Oswestry given its widely-accepted national if not international significance.”
Nevertheless, Shropshire Council is refusing to acknowledge that Old Oswestry’s historic farmland setting faces similar degradation from development sweeping ever closer to the monument. It has stated it “does not accept that proposed development (OSW004) would result in substantial harm to the significance of the hillfort.” And it claims that “the sensitivity of the Old Oswestry hillfort and its setting have been recognised by Shropshire Council throughout the local plan-making process.”
HOOOH points out that the Council’s opinion has not been supported by any evidence and is in stark contrast to the assessment by a group of 12 eminent British archaeologists that housing would cause “irreparable harm to the hillfort’s setting”. They include Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe and Professor Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, while RESCUE (British Archaeological Trust), the Council for British Archaeology and The Prehistoric Society have all made similar objections. Testifying to the hillfort’s significance, representatives among them have described it as the “Stonehenge of the Iron Age” and in the “Premier League of British archaeological sites”.
“We ask why so little support to protect this significant hinterland landscape has come from Shropshire’s historic environment team,” said Mrs Rowlands. “It appears that OSW004 is being forced on us by the political will of the Council to fulfil their housing quota in SAMDev at any cost.”
Tim Malim, heritage planning adviser to HOOOH, said: “There is an inexplicable lack of appreciation for one of Shropshire’s and the UK’s most important heritage assets. There is also a serious lack of understanding for planning policy and the heritage significance of the hillfort’s setting in believing that development at OSW004 is sound. The LPA is leaving itself wide open to legal challenges while there is such glaring inconsistency in the interpretation of planning guidance in relation to the County’s heritage.”
Campaigners are also extremely disappointed with Historic England’s capitulation over OSW004. Having objected during the early stages of SAMDev, the national body has since agreed principles for housing, subject to design approval, in a statement of common ground. This is despite its stated concerns over the loss of the hillfort’s rural setting to urban development and the disruption of views to and from the hillfort that contribute to the aesthetic value.
HOOOH says that Historic England’s contradictory approach is further highlighted by its objection to the allocation of land in SAMDev to extend an industrial park adjacent to Shrewsbury’s historic Battlefield. The heritage body is concerned about the impact of development on key views to and from the site, and potential harm to the registered battlefield’s wider designation. This is a directly parallel situation with OSW004 at Old Oswestry, say campaigners.
Mr Malim added: “We have submitted evidence to the LPA showing that there would be substantial impacts on the heritage significance of Old Oswestry from the urban encroachment of 117 houses. These include assessments using industry standard methods and Historic England’s own criteria on the setting of heritage assets.”
However, HOOOH says it is encouraged that rulings elsewhere are providing some clarity on the interpretation of harm to heritage setting under national planning guidelines (NPPF).
In 2013, the Court of Appeal overturned plans for four wind turbines on land at the 17th century Barnwell Manor near Lyveden New Bield in Northamptonshire. The judge ruled there had been a failure by a public inquiry inspector “properly to interpret and apply the relevant planning policies on the effect of development on the setting of heritage sites, which meant that the balancing exercise was flawed”.
The ruling has had notable repercussions for planning applications affecting heritage sites.
Andrew Batterton, legal director for global law firm, DLA Piper LLP, wrote in The Planner magazine earlier this year: “Even less than substantial harm impacts that fail to preserve setting and that contribute to significance of a heritage asset are now expected to be afforded considerable weight, creating a strong presumption against the grant of planning permission.”
HOOOH says if proper weight is given to Old Oswestry’s significance, the scale of harm from development in its setting, and to its community value as a heritage asset, then any unbiased balancing exercise regarding harm versus the need for housing must clearly rule OSW004 as unsound.
The SAMDev plan has been undergoing examination by Inspector Claire Sherratt for over a year. She is expected to submit her final plan to Shropshire Council in the next few weeks.
It’s a fair question. How did we arrive at a situation where tens of thousands – perhaps millions of people don’t want the hill fort’s surroundings developed and a very small number – perhaps in single figures do, and the latter may get their way? It has been a multi-threaded process but here’s just one of the threads, lest anyone forget. Years ago someone spoke to us unfondly of Peter de Figueiredo who has provided an expert opinion for the developers, citing this. Not sure if any of that is fair, we’re not saying it is, but what we can do is refer everyone to his paid-for opinion on Oswestry Hill Fort and suggest they decide for themselves if it’s fair or otherwise.
We love Section 5.3.9 about “views from” ….
” The sense of detachment the viewer feels, however, comes from the elevated viewpoint and the otherworldly character
of the structure (as described in paragraph 4.2.16-17 above), rather than
because of the particular nature of the setting. Hence the view over open
fields and woodland seen to the west may be very attractive, but it
contributes no more to the significance of the hill fort than the view of pylons
and traffic passing along the A5 to the east. Indeed the view of modern day
activity as seen in the buildings and roads that are spread more densely
across the eastern side can help the viewer to understand the continuity of
human occupation on the site and the links with its hinterland.”
and Views To (where he says it’s best viewed from very close, i.e. the only valuable setting is a very small one!) ….
“5.3.2 Distant views providing broad-ranging panoramas can be of particular
significance since they place the hill fort within its wider urban, rural and
topographical context. The relationship between the hill fort and its setting is
important to understanding the history of the area. Yet given the restricted
number of views, and the fact that many of them can only be glimpsed from
a travelling vehicle, their kinetic nature means that understanding of
significance relies on a matrix of views rather than a few static viewpoints.
This makes it difficult to model the potential impact of the proposed
development, since the setting changes in a dynamic sequence of vistas.
5.3.3 Localised views can provide more information about the hill fort itself, since
its form and structure is better revealed when the viewer is close to the
and this is just amazing …..
“A number of changes in the setting of the hill fort are identified. These have
been assessed in terms of impact on significance. Slight adverse impacts are
found in relation to kinetic views from the A5 by-pass and from a single
viewpoint on the B5069 travelling north. A beneficial impact is found in
relation to kinetic views from the B5069 travelling south. Other effects of
development are found to be either neutral or beneficial.
Mitigation measures are proposed in relation to archaeology; access to the
hill fort, car parking and interpretation; and landscape and ecology. These will
substantially offset the adverse visual consequences of development.
On balance this assessment finds that the consequences of development of
land at Oldport as proposed would have a neutral impact on the significance
of the Old Oswestry Hill Fort, providing that suitable mitigation measures are
taken. This would accord with Policy 134 of the National Planning Policy
Framework that states that where a development proposal will lead to less
than substantial harm to the significance of a designated heritage asset, this
harm should be weighed against the public benefits of the proposal.”
HOOOH Press Release 5th September 2015
Heritage groups ‘slam’ hillfort development in final round of consultation
Shropshire Council’s ‘master plan’ for housing within the historic hinterland of Old Oswestry hillfort has been pulled apart in new criticism by heritage experts.
Proposed guidelines for the 117 houses in Shropshire’s SAMDev local plan have been slated by RESCUE (The British Archaeological Trust) as ambiguous, inappropriate and contrary to national planning policy, and in parts as ‘impossible to implement’ and ‘a nonsense’.
The Prehistoric Society also condemns the proposals, stressing the national significance of the monument and its landscape and the harm that would result from development.
This latest backlash is in response to modifications made by Inspector Claire Sherratt as her examination of the plan comes to a close.
Modifications to the hillfort allocation, known as OSW004, have been taken from a statement of common ground negotiated between Shropshire Council and Historic England (formerly English Heritage). This effectively reframed robust objections by the heritage guardians to the soundness of the site into an agreement to develop subject to a range of master planning conditions.
In its response, campaign group HOOOH has challenged the fairness and transparency of introducing, outside of public consultation, a signed agreement for a highly contentious development aimed at passing Inspector examination.
RESCUE dissects the 300-word policy statement in a detailed representation highlighting points of non-compliance with the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) on heritage setting and sustainable development.
The heritage protection group claims that Shropshire Council has not met its obligation to give great weight to the conservation of heritage assets of the highest significance, which includes scheduled monuments such as Old Oswestry.
It quotes NPPF paragraph 132 stating that significance can be harmed or lost through alteration of the heritage asset or development within its setting. RESCUE concludes that housing would ‘obviously adversely affect the setting of the scheduled Old Oswestry hillfort despite any mitigation proposed.’
Citing the national significance of the hillfort, RESCUE goes on to say that development would be unsustainable since the LPA ‘has not demonstrated that OSW004 is vitally necessary to meet its objectively assessed development and infrastructure requirement.’
RESCUE also criticises design principles for delivery of the site, including the ambiguity and inadequacy of master planning which simply states a requirement for ‘high quality design and appropriate integration within the sensitive historic landscape.’ It argues that the principles are highly subjective and impossible to implement impartially without prior exposition and predefined guidance to define and manage them.
Highly critical that a full archaeological investigation is being left to master planning stage, RESCUE continues: ‘It is inappropriate and also contrary to national planning policy to allocate this site for development without the archaeological significance of the site having already been established through appropriate assessment and evaluation.’
The group slates yet another design principle to ‘consider measures to improve the access, interpretation and enjoyment of the hillfort and the wider historic landscape.’
While pointing out that this cannot be implemented without defining the scope and responsibility for such measures, RESCUE asserts: ‘It is simply not possible to envisage any situation whereby a development on this particular site could improve anyone’s enjoyment of the hillfort or the wider historic landscape. The principle is itself a nonsense.’
Moving on to question the proposal for a landscape buffer and screening to ‘create a clear settlement boundary’, RESCUE argues that this is incompatible with the existing character of the hillfort’s open landscape.
The group also criticises the principle of ‘ensuring long distance views to and from the hillfort within its wider setting are conserved’, saying that this contradicts the requirement for screening. It concludes: ‘Conservation of views cannot be maintained if development proceeds on this site, so this principle is impossible to implement.’
In a letter of representation for The Prehistoric Society, president Dr Alex Gibson disputes the same point on preserving long distance views, saying: ‘This cannot be achieved by constructing 117 dwellings within the immediate setting.’
Underlining NPPF guidance on the importance of the setting of designated assets, he also cites Historic England conservation principles for sustaining ‘historic, evidential, aesthetic and communal values’ that contribute to the significance of places.
Dr Gibson writes: ‘The designation of the monument indicates that it has high historic and evidential values, and it is clear from the strong and vocal campaign that the communal value is also extremely significant, both within the local community and further afield. The aesthetic value, of a designed earthwork in a strategic position within a glacial landscape, must also be considered high.’
The Prehistoric Society also questions policy wording requiring that the ‘form, massing, height and roofscape design’ of the development should minimise landscape impact. It argues that the terminology is more suited to urban zones in reference to harmonising with existing architecture, and therefore inappropriate for a rural landscape where there are no pre-existing buildings against which to judge impact.
Stating like RESCUE that OSW004 must be removed from the plan, Dr Gibson sums up: ‘To compromise the setting and impede views both from and to the monument must be considered as significant harm.’
Neil Phillips of HOOOH said: “Between them, these responses completely dismantle the SAMDev policy statement and design principles that supposedly make the hillfort development sound. It defies reason as to how OSW004 can be kept on the plan.”
Meanwhile, Shropshire Council has stated publically that it ‘does not accept that proposed development would result in substantial harm to the significance of the hillfort.’
Described as the ‘Stonehenge of the Iron Age’, the 3,000 year old hillfort is a scheduled monument as is the medieval defence, Wat’s Dyke, which incorporates the hillfort as it crosses north-south through Oswestry .
The Inspector is expected to submit her approved plan to Shropshire Council for adoption this autumn.
Under consultation since 2010, SAMDev will identify land to meet Shropshire’s employment and housing needs to 2026.
OSW004 lies within the most archaeologically significant quadrant of Old Oswestry’s setting, straddling historic farmland that would have sustained centuries of hillfort communities and currently preserves open views to the monument. This area of its landscape fanning east to south cradles evidence of Neolithic, Iron Age, Roman and medieval activity, as well as the footprint of military use during two World Wars linked to the nearby Park Hall Camp.
The housing proposals have been fiercely opposed through several stages of consultation by thousands, including residents of Oswestry and across Shropshire, multiple stakeholder groups, eminent archaeologists and concerned observers around the globe.
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).
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.
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.
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”.
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!
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:
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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);
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.
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.