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Last year  we celebrated the news that an Inspector had dismissed a developer’s appeal against a refusal to allow an estate of houses at the entrance to Laurie Lee’s Slad Valley. As we said at the time it would have been “one of the most vandalistic actions that could be committed in the whole of rural England” so everyone won (except the developers).

But it wasn’t quite the end. The builders spent lots of money on a final throw of the dice – they sought a judicial review to try to reverse the decision. But now they have abandoned it so that really is the end.

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fat lady quaffs

It is “great news for Stroud” says Richard Lloyd of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. “[It] should give some hope to other threatened landscapes across the UK which have particular heritage value.” (Like Oswestry, perhaps?)

“When sound explanations and a reasoned defence are mounted against an unreasonable planning application, developers can see their plans defeated, however big their chest of fighting funds.”

By Dr Sandy Gerrard.

As part of the planning conditions imposed by the Planning Inspector at Mynydd y Betws he stated: “No development shall take place within the site until a programme of archaeological work has been implemented in accordance with a written scheme of investigation approved by the Local Planning Authority in consultation with Cadw”

In August 2010 the necessary approval was obtained with a Cadw Officer stating:

“I have read through this WSI and can confirm Cadw’s agreement to what is a comprehensive programme of work linked to the appropriate professional standards.”

Please can someone tell me how can a Written Scheme of Investigation (WSI) which does not include any earthwork recording in a landscape which Cadw described in 2006 as having a “density of visible upstanding archaeological sites and monuments of many periods” be described as comprehensive?

Furthermore the Planning Inspector had already stated in his report when mentioning archaeological sites that it would appear from the site inspection that some are not specifically recorded.”

So why did Cadw and Dyfed Archaeological Trust not insist that at least these were recorded prior to destruction?

If they had perhaps a field system through which a road was driven would have at least been noticed before it was destroyed.

Field system on moorland at Mynydd y Betws.

Field system on moorland at Mynydd y Betws.

Field boundaries highlighted in red formed part of a field system at Mynydd y Betws

Field boundaries highlighted in red formed part of a field system at Mynydd y Betws

The same area after the construction of the wind farm. Most of the boundaries were destroyed without any attempt being made to record them.

The same area after the construction of the wind farm. Most of the boundaries were destroyed without any attempt being made to record them.

A press release from the Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort campaign.

‘Hillfort Hug’ planned for threatened Iron Age monument

‘Show heritage some love’ say campaigners who will be joining arms in a protective hug at Old Oswestry hillfort (North Shropshire) as planners target its ancient landscape for housing.

Hillfort hug logo

The ‘Hillfort Hug’ takes place on Valentine’s Day, February 14, with organisers HOOOH (Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort) calling it a peaceful family event. They are urging as many people as possible to take part and demonstrate their support for an iconic and nationally important hillfort.

It comes as a government Inspector decides whether fiercely opposed housing allocations bordering the 3,000 year old earthwork should remain in Shropshire’s SAMDev local plan.

Dr George Nash, an archaeologist and adviser to HOOOH said: “What happens at Old Oswestry is being seen as a test case that could open the floodgates to indiscriminate development exploiting heritage sites and areas of natural beauty across Britain.

“We have the short-sightedness of English Heritage and Shropshire Council to thank for putting this important Iron Age monument and potentially other parts of Britain’s ancient landscape in this state of planning jeopardy.”

HOOOH campaigner and Oswestry resident Neil Phillips said: “We are not against house-building and development. But the public wants to see it delivered in the right place, in realistic numbers and in tune with the community’s wishes.”

He added: “We hope people will feel moved to join the Old Oswestry hug in large numbers and show we are ready to protect our heritage and countryside against insensitive development.”

HOOOH says that a number of archaeological organisations have expressed an interest in networking the hug as a national event.

BBC Radio 4 visited the hillfort recently to record a programme for its new Making History series airing this spring.

Public opposition and campaign pressure has seen hillfort housing numbers proposed in SAMDev almost halved. But the developer is currently appealing for its original masterplan for some 200 homes to be reinstated.

The Inspector’s decision is expected later in February.

Those attending the ‘Hillfort Hug’ should meet at Gatacre playing fields in Oswestry at 1pm for the short walk to Old Oswestry. HOOOH is asking participants to sign up to the event page on Facebook, if possible, so that they can plan for likely numbers.

Volunteers are also needed to help steward the event. Anyone interested should ring 01691 652918 or message HOOOH on Facebook which has information on parking and other event details.

https://www.facebook.com/OldOswestryHillfort

Mr Grindley

Mr Grindley

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Did you know Mr Grindley, the humble farmer worn down and ruined by the endless Jarndyce and Jarndyce case in Bleak House, was from Shropshire? Re-reading it reminded me of Oswestry Hill Fort, another battle that may not end in a hurry, not so long as there’s money to be gained. Anyhow, here’s an excerpt from the book. Any resemblance to Oswestry is just in your mind….

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“In trickery, evasion, procrastination, spoliation, botheration, under false pretences of all sorts, there are influences that can never come to good…… Shirking and sharking in all their many varieties have been sown broadcast by the ill-fated cause; and even those who have contemplated its history from the outermost circle of such evil have been insensibly tempted into a loose way of letting bad things alone to take their own bad course, and a loose belief that if the world go wrong it was in some off-hand manner never meant to go right……

“Have you nearly concluded your argument?”
“Mlud, no — variety of points — feel it my duty tsubmit — ludship,” is the reply that slides out of Mr. Tangle.
“Several members of the bar are still to be heard, I believe?” says the Chancellor with a slight smile.
Eighteen of Mr. Tangle’s learned friends, each armed with a little summary of eighteen hundred sheets, bob up like eighteen hammers in a pianoforte, make eighteen bows, and drop into their eighteen places of obscurity.
“We will proceed with the hearing on Wednesday fortnight,” says the Chancellor. For the question at issue is only a question of costs, a mere bud on the forest tree of the parent suit, and really will come to a settlement one of these days.”

The man from Shropshire ventures another remonstrative “My lord!” but the Chancellor, being aware of him, has dexterously vanished. Everybody else quickly vanishes too. A battery of blue bags is loaded with heavy charges of papers and carried off by clerks; the little mad old woman marches off with her documents; the empty court is locked up. If all the injustice it has committed and all the misery it has caused could only be locked up with it, and the whole burnt away in a great funeral pyre — why so much the better for other parties than the parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce [and Oswestry!]

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What a circus to settle something that ought to be blindingly obvious: there should be no housing development inside the setting of Oswestry Hillfort!

Today (Tuesday 16th December, 2014), government appointed Inspector, Claire Sherratt DIP URP MRTPI, will lead a public hearing at Shirehall, Shrewsbury, on the proposed hillfort development as part of the soundness examination of the SAMDev plan.

More information is available at: http://oldoswestryhillfort.co.uk/ or the Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/OldOswestryHillfort

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An open letter to:
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Rt Hon. Eric Pickles MP (Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government)
Rt Hon. Sajid Javid MP (Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport)
On house building by ‘Old Oswestry’
“one of the greatest archaeological monuments of the nation”–English Heritage
“the outstanding work of Early Iron Age type”– Professor Sir Cyril Fox (1934)
________________________________
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Dear Sirs,
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We write to express on-going concerns within the heritage community over Shropshire County Council’s proposal for housing development OSW004, a site for 117 houses, less than 300 m from the scheduled ancient monument, Old Oswestry Hillfort.

We understand that an 8,000 signature petition exists in opposition to the development, as held by the local Hands off Old Oswestry Hillfort campaign, and that concerns have been raised by the Society of Antiquaries of London, The Prehistoric Society, RESCUE (British Archaeological Trust),Campaign to Protect Rural England, and Shropshire Wildlife Trust.

As Senior Academics in British Archaeology, we would like to give our perspective. In our view:

  1. Old Oswestry hillfort is one of the greatest Iron Age hill forts in Britain;
  2. OSW004 would claim an important area of the hillfort’s hinterland;
  3. this would cause irreparable harm to the hillfort’s setting;
  4. this is contrary to planning legislation established to protect the historic environment; and
  5. this would set an unacceptable precedent.

Old Oswestry is a Scheduled Ancient Monument statutorily protected under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act (1979). Development within the hinterland of this extraordinarily significant hillfort runs counter to the National Planning Policy Framework (2012), English Heritage’s The Setting of Heritage Assets (2011) and Good Practice Advice on Setting and Decision – taking (2014) and ultimately, the Valletta Convention (1992).

The NPPF (paragraphs 126 – 141) is explicit in its steer that the setting of heritage assets should be afforded protection proportionate to their significance. Yet, despite Old Oswestry’s demonstrable importance, and despiteconcerns previously raised by those within the heritage sector, alongside very significant local opposition, OSW004 somehow remains in Shropshire’s Site Allocations and Management of Development plan.

If the bar for acceptable development under the NPPF does not protect the setting of even our most significant heritage sites, then we set a potentially calamitous precedent for the greater part of the nation’s historic  environment.

Yours Sincerely,

Professor Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn FBA, FSA
Emeritus Disney Professor of Archaeology, University of Cambridge
Professor Sir Barrington Windsor Cunliffe CBE, FBA, FSA
Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology, University of Oxford
Professor Ian Ralston OBE, FRSE, FSA, MCiFA
Abercromby Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology, University of Edinburgh
Dr Geoffrey Wainwright MBE, FSA, FSLW
Hon. Vice President Society of Antiquaries
Professor Richard Bradley FBA, FSA
Emeritus Professor of Archaeology, University of Reading
Professor Dennis Harding FRSE
Emeritus Abercromby Professor of Archaeology, University of Edinburgh
Professor Colin Haselgrove FBA, FSA
Professor of Archaeology, University of Leicester
Professor Niall Sharples FSA
Professor of Archaeology, University of Cardiff
Professor Ian Armit FSA
Professor of Archaeology, University of Bradford
Dr John Creighton FSA
Director, Society of Antiquaries
Dr Alexander Gibson FSA MCIfA
President, the Prehistoric Society
Dr Alison Sheridan FSA, ACIfA
Emerita President,the Prehistoric Society
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oswestry555

Dear Everyone,
You might know me as cantankerous Salopian farmer Silas Brown, campaigner for “best practice” to be imposed on artefact hunting by Parliament (just put “Silas” in the search box)  but today I’m on a different tack. As a proud Salopian I’d like everyone to know what’s happening in my county. Shropshire Council is determined to have a housing estate built alongside Oswestry Hill Fort and there are two things you ought to know about.

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silas15.

First, it has been suggested they haven’t been playing it with a straight bat. (See the latest allegations in the press. Have the public been “misled”?)

Second, it’s hard to think they are sincere in some of their statements. Like this recent one: “Shropshire Council does not accept that development of the site would result in substantial harm to the significance of the hillfort“. Anyone with eyes – including them – can see it will damage it. You might ask how they can claim what’s blatantly not true. I suppose it’s “the system” – there’s no way of measuring “damage” so if you’re a council or a developer you can say you think a development is harmless even though everyone, including you, knows you don’t mean it.)

Anyway, there’s to be a public hearing at 1.30pm on 16th December and we’ll see what the Inspector thinks. I’ll tell you what I think though. I think Shropshire has an unrivalled record of contributing to the world’s culture, being home to the world’s first skyscraper and iron bridge and the birthplace of the Modern Olympics, Charles Darwin and the Industrial Revolution. I hope it won’t add to that record the deliberate damaging of the setting of its foremost ancient monument!

Silas Brown,
Grunter’s Hollow,
Worfield,
Shropshire

 

The official definition of Conservation (as defined in the National Planning Policy Framework) which English Heritage is bound by is: “the process of maintaining and managing change to a heritage asset”. Fortunately no-one told Andrew Heaton and his colleagues, pesky local campaigners against a housing development close to Offa’s Dyke. Or maybe they were told but couldn’t get it out of their commonsensical Salopian heads that conservation ought to mean preservation of precious assets .
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Andrew has sent the following thank you note to a large number of people and organisations including ourselves. We thought we’d publish it verbatim on the Journal (with his permission) as it gives an idea of how the planning process feels when viewed by non-specialists out in the country. The word he uses about it is “surreal“! That’s a well-chosen term. It’s where people with common sense eyes view something that doesn’t quite make sense! How many thousands of local campaigners have felt the same way (and with worse outcomes)?
_____________________________________________
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Hi,
I’m very pleased to tell you, that the Councillors rejected the proposed housing development, by a vote of 6:3. Thank you so much, for helping us.  Were it not for the help received, the diggers would already be moving in; your help, advice and encouragement is greatly appreciated.  
 
The Council meeting for the determination, was a very interesting experience.  In some ways, I thought that the meeting had a slightly surreal feel to it.  In the Council room, we had a situation in which the Planning officials were arguing a case for development, and stating that the heritage experts (English Heritage & Dr Wigley of Shropshire Council Archaeology) had no objections.  It was apparent, that the heritage ‘experts’ had no interest at all, in protecting the heritage assets, whilst the non-experts & Dr George Nash, were concerned that they should be protected !  Obviously, we are all interested parties, but when Councillors cite their own concerns about the possible impact on the heritage assets, I can’t help but think, that English Heritage & Dr Wigley should have been doing likewise. We had a situation, in which the non-experts were concerned about the heritage assets and the experts (bar Dr George Nash) were not – totally bizarre. 
 
Oh yes, top marks for one Councillor, who I feel made the best single comment of all at the meeting; he said that he didn’t place great value on the comments of English Heritage, as they are apt to change their minds. There is still a lot of work to be done, though.  I think that the residents need a meeting, to determine the next course of action. I think that we should seek to use the positive result, as a springboard for further action.

Thank you again, for helping save Offa’s Dyke from the developers.
Best wishes,
Andy

EHandNT

English Heritage has just published “Heritage Counts” an interesting annual survey of the state of England’s historic environment (produced on behalf of the Historic Environment Forum). It highlights how important Heritage is both in economic terms and as a contributor to personal wellbeing.  One bit in particular caught our eye. It was this, where they emphasise their view that “standards of decision making” are important in planning matters:

LYVE.

It’s a fair bet what they really thought important in that case wasn’t the the standard of decision making but the right decision, whether arrived at well or disgracefully – and they may even have been smiling as they wrote it, who knows? What is known is that together with the National Trust they fought long and hard to prevent the heritage value of that place being diminished by massive turbines. Their Chief Executive called the original decision Despicable & disastrous” – and the NT’s Director of Conservation said of the successful reversal of that decision that “it sends an important signal that areas of outstanding beauty or national significance need protecting“.

Lyveden.

Of course, what is considered “a good standard of decision making” may differ from person to person and place to place. We can’t help wondering whether NT and EH consider their decisions to support a short tunnel at Stonehenge were of “a good standard of decision making”?

willits.

In Willits (California) a bypass is being cut through the heart of ancestral tribal lands. In Wilts (UK) another one (comprising a “short” tunnel with massive access cuttings) is being planned to cut through the heart of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. That’s not where the similarities end.

In Willits  there were delays in funding due to the downturn in the economy.” – snap in Wilts!

In Willits:No official consultation had ever occurred” - snap in Wilts! (lots of private meetings though!)

In Willits:nearly 30 cultural sites not documented in the first EIS have been found” Will it be snap with a nought added in Wilts?

In Willits:officials never created a map” – snap in Wilts – or to be precise, detailed ones haven’t been shown to the public (yet they must exist – how else could English Heritage and the National Trust have decided to support the short tunnel?)

In Willits: “they started finding things they said wouldn’t be there.” Will it be snap to that too in Wilts? (A clue: “hundreds” of previously unsuspected features have recently been found at Stonehenge. “Two thousand” have recently been found on Exmoor! Thus what might be selected as the “least damaging” route might turn out to be otherwise. Would the line of the route be diverted if that happened – like it wasn’t at Tara?)

In Willits: Tribal officials say the authorities are “not properly informing and consulting with them about new sites that are disrupted or found during construction“. It remains to be seen if the hundreds of features likely to be found, disrupted or destroyed at Stonehenge are likely to be promptly reported to the British tribe (or the World one) or whether they’ll only learn what has been lost long after it has happened.

_________________________________________________________________

A synopsis of the Outstanding Universal Value of Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site can be found here. For an account of the 20-year Stonehenge roads saga and the efforts of the admirable Stonehenge Alliance and others to resist damage to the Outstanding Universal Value see here.

On 3rd December 2014 the Chancellor is likely to announce funds for a short bored tunnel (2.5km to 2.9km)  as a result of confidential talks between the Department for Transport, the Highways Agency, English Heritage, the National Trust, local authorities and others. If you believe a short bored tunnel would be too short to protect the World Heritage Site please consider signing the Petition here.

The National Trust AGM is currently being streamed on line HERE. They have just said that the reason they are now willing to support a short tunnel at Stonehenge is that although they “stood firm” on a long tunnel last time the Government had refused and it has become clear that a long tunnel will never be agreed to. That comes as no surprise to anyone, but they then added (words to the effect that):
We think there’s a real risk that if we don’t support a short tunnel the Government will simply push ahead and dual the whole of the A303 right across the World Heritage site.
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To which we’d respond:
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1. Is there such a risk? Who says so? How great a risk is it? Since the NT changing it’s mind is the thing that seems to have fired the starting gun for a short tunnel shouldn’t the Trust have a better reason for changing its mind than an unattributed, unexplained, unquantified “fear”?
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2. Does the Trust know that dualling the whole road across the whole World Heritage Site would be more damaging to world heritage archaeology (and the hydrology of Salisbury Plain) than constructing deep, wide tunnel entrances over part of it? Has the Trust access to convincing data on those issues, will they publish it immediately?
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3. Does the Trust know that European money for a longer tunnel is not available and if not are they prepared to suspend their support for a short one until they and the public are in possession of all the necessary facts upon which to base a proper judgement?
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4. What exactly does “forever, for everyonemean?
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UPDATE Sun 9 Nov:
You can now see the two questions asked about the tunnel and the Trust’s answers here:
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Question 1 by Kate Fielden 48 minutes – for 4 minutes
Question 2 by Kate Freeman 1 hour 03 minutes – for 2 minutes.
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UPDATE Mon 10 Nov
This morning the Prime Minister will say, 3 weeks in advance of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement that the whole length of the A303 will be upgraded to be at least a dual carriageway

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