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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?
From The Heritage Journal, 27 July 2005 :
“Heritage Action welcomes the news that the A303 improvement scheme that threatened loss of archaeology and further intrusion into the surroundings of Stonehenge has been withdrawn. However, we are concerned that other options will leave the entire WHS site fragmented by expanded approach roads that will cut into the heritage landscape of the Stonehenge complex and the archaeology it contains.
ICOMOS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, has also welcomed the news. They say: “We believe that the review announced by the Minister allows time for serious consideration to be given to alternative schemes for upgrading the A303 that do not involve cutting across the heart of the World Heritage site.”
Now, exactly 11 years later, it looks like the bloody bulldozers are back. The Government, English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust are effectively saying sod what ICOMOS said, we want new dual carriageways to be bulldozed deep and wide across at least a mile of the World Heritage Site.
If you’re outraged please sign the petition. (Incidentally, it’s to be hoped that if earth moving equipment is deployed at Stonehenge, none of it will belong to Mr Penny, the man convicted of allowing a Priddy Circle to be bulldozed. Why on earth would we think anything so crass would be allowed? Clue: it wouldn’t be the first time!)
The Government says a 1.8 mile tunnel is all they can afford at Stonehenge. Conservation bodies English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust have said that would be OK and they’ll support it, even though a mile of massive approach roads will have to be driven through the UNESCO protected World Heritage Site. Logic suggests they CANNOT be right to do so but now there’s something happening to suggest that their stance is not only wrong but foolish. Britain is talking about building an 18 mile long road tunnel between Manchester and Sheffield – that’s ten times longer than at Stonehenge!
Someone in the Government is telling porkies about what can be comfortably offered at Stonehenge. By the same token, supporting the short tunnel there on the basis that’s all that can be afforded is going along with – and aiding – a falsehood.
And here’s a funny thing: the latest rumour is that Brexit may mean major projects including Stonehenge are cancelled. If it happens it will put English Heritage, Historic England and the National Trust in a ticklish spot. Will they express regret about it, which will be ludicrous or will they welcome it, which will indicate their existing stance is ludicrous? We’ll see. They may yet come to ruefully reflect that supporting the Government is riskier than supporting what’s right – since the former may change whereas the latter never will.
Forget what you’ve heard, it is said that King Arthur, (the real one!), was born, lived and died in Shropshire! There are King Arthur trails to real sites connected to stories surrounding him and one historian even believes he may have found Arthur’s actual grave in Shropshire and wants English Heritage to investigate it.
No chance, we suspect. Inter alia, Shropshire being the “Arthurian County” would clash with EH’s promotion of a zero-evidence but money-spinning Arthurian myth at Tintagel! Dr Tehmina Goskar highlights the Tintagel issue perfectly: “Why were monumental artistic interventions chosen as a method of interpretation? Would EH countenance similar interventions at Stonehenge or at other multiple-designated sites they manage? If not, why at Tintagel?” Why indeed! And here’s a funny thing: they’ve erected a statue of Arthur at Tintagel based on a myth that he was born there, but at Oswestry Hillfort, (which is also in their guardianship) they haven’t erected a statue of Guinevere – who WAS born there!
Not that we advocate cheap tourist-trapping at Oswestry Hillfort, but we can’t help wondering …. if they had a bigger financial interest in it would they have been keener to protect its setting from housing developments? Incidentally, if they did go for brandalising at Oswestry, here’s a thought for them: being public guardians doesn’t give anyone a license to impose tat on the public’s assets.
On that day Historic England is sponsoring a conference celebrating 30 years since Stonehenge was added to the World Heritage List. Very nice. Except that it will include an examination of “developments in conservation”. Why?
Well, Historic England, English Heritage and the National Trust are all making presentations. All three have been pushing hard for a short tunnel with entrances and new road infrastructure inside the World Heritage Site even though it simply can’t happen unless the meaning of the wording of the World Heritage Convention can somehow be morphed to say that construction of massive entrance trenches inside the World Heritage Site is OK!
It’s to be hoped that a conference billed as a celebration of the WHS and the protection it has enjoyed won’t be used as a platform to suggest that profoundly damaging it is valid. It isn’t!
The Journal has been around quite a while and one of the advantages of that is that we can look at our archives and find things which EH, NT et al, those who are trying to say (and DO say) that UNESCO/ICOMOS think a short tunnel would be spiffing, would rather everyone would forget.
Here’s a beauty from exactly 11 years ago, in July 2005:
"Heritage Action welcomes the news that the A303 improvement scheme that threatened the loss of archaeology and further intrusion into the surroundings of Stonehenge has been withdrawn. ICOMOS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, has also welcomed the news. They say: "We believe that the review announced by the Minister allows time for serious consideration to be given to alternative schemes for upgrading the A303 that do not involve cutting across the heart of the World Heritage Site".
The army is building some new houses at Bulford, a couple of kilometers from Stonehenge and they’ve discovered a couple of 5,000 year old neolithic henges. The houses will still be built but a green space containing the henges will be left untouched.
By contrast, not far away and very soon, it is intended that bulldozers will dig out the entrance trenches to the “short tunnel” inside the World Heritage Site. There will be a host of archaeological sites in that area and you’ll have heard that the line chosen will minimise the impact on them. It’s important to understand though, that if two more henges (or ten, or anything else, no matter how precious) are found to be “inconveniently” placed, the line of the road won’t look like this….
No, it will look far more like this, it’s a certainty. Any diversion will be marginal or impossible so “minimising the impact” means about as much as a politician’s promise.
That in a nutshell is what the Stonehenge Alliance and others are upset about. So please sign their petition if you haven’t done already. The road lobby, you see, wearing the smiling professional face of EH, HE and NT, is likely to be far more ruthless than the army.
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.
Andy Heaton who has led a tireless fight against damage to Offa’s Dyke , today offers his thoughts on the “short tunnel” at Stonehenge. In particular, he points out what the short tunnel lobby doesn’t: even a ‘long’ tunnel of 3 miles under Stonehenge would still be 15 miles shorter than the 18 mile one now being planned to run under the Peak District!
A couple of weeks ago in the Guardian, there was an article outlining how the government intends to set in motion plans for a high-speed railway line from Manchester to Leeds and an 18 mile underground road tunnel beneath the Peak District. The predicted cost of all this is £6bn . . . . . . . but government projects are never within budget, so it’ll cost at least double that amount. Oh yes, by comparison with the example above, perhaps the ‘long’ tunnel that has been suggested for Stonehenge, should be renamed as the ‘modest’ tunnel ? A ‘long’ tunnel of 3 miles under Stonehenge, would still be 15 miles shorter than the ‘long’ tunnel under the Peak District. Perhaps they measure things differently in Wiltshire? Perhaps Stonehenge should be relocated to the Peak District and placed atop the new 18 mile tunnel?
The problem with a tunnel is that a couple of miles of brand new, four-lane highway would have to be bulldozed through the World Heritage Site. Outside the tunnel, the World Heritage Site would be split in two, by a noisy and unsightly dual carriageway (four-lane highway). It would need to be securely fenced and with long cuttings leading down to tunnel entrances. Oh yes, it would need to have a high level of lighting – day and night – these requirements are mandatory and as such, there is no scope to minimise any impacts. The stone circle might not be subjected to physical harm, but its landscape setting would be badly damaged and other important archaeological remains would be destroyed.
A situation exists, in which there is a one-off opportunity to secure the long-term future of Stonehenge – a heritage asset of unsurpassable importance. There is still time, to ‘get it right’; however, my concerns lie with the fact that the government and HE/NT seem prepared to accept compromises. I’m used to the government acting this way, but I’m massively disappointed with EH – the (so-called) guardians of our heritage.
English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust, joint supporters of a short tunnel at Stonehenge, may wish to look away now. We are reproducing below an extract from a book published last week by UNESCO – “World Heritage Today in Europe” which has a bearing on the matter. (It was published with the generous support of the French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy. Had it been financed in Britain it may well have said something different, so hurrah for the French!)
Case Study – Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites’
The property ‘Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites’ was inscribed on the List in 1986. Following this decision, a draft Statement of Significance was prepared, based on documentation considered by ICOMOS and the World Heritage Committee at the time of inscription. The Statement was developed by the property Steering Committees and other stakeholders, submitted to UNESCO by the government of the United Kingdom, and then agreed by the World Heritage Committee in 2008. In accordance with the requirements for Statements of Outstanding Universal Value outlined in the Operational Guidelines in 2005, a full Statement of Outstanding Universal Value was adopted by the Committee in 2013.
Attributes were first developed for Stonehenge when drafting its 2009 Management Plan. This involved a wide stakeholder group managed through the Stonehenge Advisory Forum and included a three-month public consultation period involving an exhibition, a questionnaire, a website and a polling of local residents. The attributes were reviewed during the development of the first Management Plan to cover the whole property, adopted in 2015, and it was recognised that they apply to the entire property. At each stage, great care was taken to ensure that the attributes were firmly based on the text of the agreed Statement.
The attributes are:
1. The global fame and iconic status of Stonehenge itself;
2. The physical remains of the Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary and ceremonial monuments and associated sites;
3. The siting of Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary and ceremonial sites and monuments in the landscape;
4. The design of Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary and ceremonial sites and monuments in relation to the skies and astronomy;
5. The siting of Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary and ceremonial sites and monuments in relation to each other;
6. The disposition, physical remains and settings of the key Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary, ceremonial and other monuments and sites of the period, which together form a landscape without parallel;
7. The influence of the remains of Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary and ceremonial monuments and their landscape settings on architects, artists, historians, archaeologists and others.
The whole process helped to clarify the understanding of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value among key stakeholders. The attributes are now proving to be a useful tool in assessing potential impacts on Outstanding Universal Value, particularly in clarifying its spatial implications for development planners. They will constitute the basis of formal planning guidance for the property.
Making a case for a short tunnel will require showing that not just one but all seven of those attributes won’t be damaged whereas common sense would suggest they all will be. Massive entrance trenches can’t be talked away. So far there has been silence on the issue, just talk about “the benefits”. Shortly the mattter will have to be addressed. Look out for fibs, foutards, re-interpretations and smokescreens.