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The protection of monuments is subject to a postcode lottery it seems. Up in SY11 Shropshire Council is leaning over backwards in it’s mania to damage Oswestry hillfort. Down in OX7 it’s different.

Let Shropshire Council and planners take careful note of what the West Oxfordshire planners have just said about a proposal to build an overflow carpark for the Rollright Stones. We don’t know the full merits of this proposal, such as how far from the stones it will be, but we do know it’s not a money grabbing exercise, it’s just to provide occasional overflow parking for school parties visiting their heritage (and not metalled parking at that, just reinforced turf that you’ll hardly notice). What’s more, the applicant isn’t a money grabber he’s George Lambrick, very long term head of the charity which look after the stones, a previous Director of the British Council for Archaeology and an archaeologist of great repute – someone who certainly wouldn’t dream of causing harm to the stones or their setting.

Despite all that, the West Oxfordshire planners are treading very, very carefully: “Introducing such an alien form, even with the landscaping, which indicates in itself that the development requires screening to be assimilated into the landscape, will detract from the very special and unique character of the stones.” It is now likely that the Trust will amend the application in a way which will satisfy the planners – see here, but the process will have been conducted as it should have been with Guardians guarding like tigers, even when both the application and the applicant are meritorious.  Do you see, Shropshire Council? Of course you do, as everyone knows. Yet you have the massive nerve to state that you don’t think a load of houses right next to Oswestry Hillfort will cause “substantial harm”.

Here’s an interesting thought: Oswestry Hillfort would be safe if it was in Oxfordshire (or probably any other county that wasn’t Shropshire). How does that make you feel, planners and councillors of the Independent and Aberrant Republic of Shropshireland?

Much has been written, especially by English Heritage and the National Trust, about how good it would be to have a “short tunnel” at Stonehenge. But last Wednesday and Friday Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb asked HM Government three very simple questions which make EH’s and NT’s certainty at this early stage look a bit ill-founded…..

Does the Government plan “to implement a tunnel for the A303 in order to avoid the entire surface area of the Stonehenge part of the World  Heritage Site?”
Have they “sought, or been given, the advice of the National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites concerning proposals for dualling the A303 through the Stonehenge part of the World Heritage Site; and if so, what advice have they received?”
Do they intend “fully to honour Article 4 of the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World’s Heritage in respect of any future A303 dualling scheme at Stonehenge; and if not, whether they intend to withdraw as a signatory to the World Heritage Convention?”

Let’s see if the Government’s answers will be evasive – and if so whether English Heritage and the National Trust will persist in their present stance regardless. If that happens it will be hard not to conclude they’re pursuing a fixed agenda irrespective of the facts.

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.

With 117 houses planned on fields nearby, has the ‘Stonehenge of the Iron Age’ drawn the short straw in Shropshire’s housing rush?

With 117 houses planned on fields nearby, has the ‘Stonehenge of the Iron Age’ drawn the short straw in Shropshire’s housing rush?

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.”

Osw view

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.’

Design principles

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.’

Prehistoric Society

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.’

‘Defies reason’

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.

The guardians of our national heritage take various forms.  In Scotland the lead body is Historic Scotland, whilst in Wales it is Cadw and in England the new Historic England (formerly English Heritage) champions all that is special about our heritage. There is a common held belief that these organisations are about protecting nationally important heritage. All three proclaim this loudly in their mission statements and it is therefore hardly surprising that most people believe that these organisations are responsible for *protecting* the best sites in their respective countries. Sadly this could not be further from the truth.


All three organisations are actually responsible for enabling development and change within the historic environment.  All three are paid for from the public purse and rely for their very survival on keeping their paymasters happy. The results of this relationship are inevitable and from time to time we have highlighted here on the Heritage Journal some of the apparently bizarre and contradictory decisions these organisations inevitably make.

Recently we heard of a prime example from Scotland which illustrates our point admirably.

A proposal to develop a large part of a designated heritage asset (a battlefield in this case) was submitted and Historic Scotland responded as you might expect by opposing the scheme.  The result was that the proposal was withdrawn. Hurrah! – this how the system is supposed to work. The developers however subsequently tweaked their scheme and re-submitted it. Despite the fact that there were now more buildings and the area to be destroyed was exactly the same, Historic Scotland now concluded that the development “would not have a significant impact on the battlefield landscape”.

So what was so different between the two proposals to justify this meteoric change? Apparently very little and most importantly the impact on the heritage asset under both proposals was the same – a substantial proportion would be destroyed. So why did the piper change his tune? The success of this development was a high priority for the Scottish Government, which of course funds Historic Scotland.  It would be a brave piper indeed who ignored the wishes of their master…


This story was originally covered by “The Scotsman” but we now understand that despite Historic Scotland’s acquiescence with the annihilation of a place they had identified as being of national importance that the developers themselves have since withdrawn the scheme.

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’.

There’s a petition here  and a BBC report here In the words of the petition: “Purbeck District Council have said that the gorgeous woodhenge at Worth Matravers will only be able to stand until September 2015. This beautiful structure not only draws people into the area but is loved by the majority of people in the village. Think of it as a piece of art, a slice of our history or just a beautiful part of the stunning local landscape. We can make a positive difference to the local area by petiitioning Purbeck District Council to allow it to stand for longer.”

Worth Matrav henge

It’s a very British dispute. The petition is not calling for it to stay forever, merely for “longer” and the gentleman who built it is full of, well, gentlemanlyness: “It was a bit of fun”…. We used 35 tonnes of timber and made it as an installation, as a feature on the landscape. The council has not been unreasonable with me at all, when I asked if we could have a couple of months they agreed. I have no issue with them at all over this.” Most locals seem to love it and want it to stay longer. Tim Arnold, of the village’s Post Office Cottage bed & breakfast says “I think it is a fantastic thing to do, it is a piece of art as far as I am concerned. I don’t have an issue with the council but this is definitely a piece of art, a local sculpture, and that should be respected.  It is a shame for it to be pulled down. I’m not saying it should stay there permanently but maybe for a year or two.”

We agree. In a world where planning laws are flouted with impunity by greedy developers it seems a great shame that the regulations can’t be bent a bit for something that is self-evidently temporary and “gorgeous” and very popular.

Sekhemka, the ancient Egyptian statue owned by the public yet sold by Northampton Council last year in the face of widespread condemnation, gazes towards another publicly owned asset, the archaeological setting of Oswestry Hillfort, perhaps soon to be destroyed by the actions of Shropshire Council in the face of similar widespread condemnation.

Sekhemka, the ancient Egyptian statue owned by the public yet sold last year by Northampton Council despite widespread condemnation, gazes across  another publicly owned asset, the archaeological setting of Oswestry Hillfort, perhaps soon to be destroyed by the actions of Shropshire Council despite similar widespread condemnation.  In both cases the Councils have assured the public they are motivated by the best of intentions. In both cases, coincidentally, about £15 million is involved.

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:

oswestry limits.

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?

oswestry limit 2

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.

Courtesy of Old Oswestry Hillfort’s Facebook page!

“Can anyone spot the difference between these four late 18th century A5 toll houses? Clue, three of them are in Wales, the other one is in Shropshire….”



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