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We’ve spoken many times on the Journal about the lack of sensitivity when it comes to local opinion at heritage sites – Stonehenge being the prime example. And last year we highlighted several issues at Tintagel in Cornwall where the heritage of the site seemed to be taking a back seat to the need for cash generation for English Heritage’s (EH) coffers, and to hell with the history.

Sadly, once again it seems that EH’s need for finance is over-riding any consideration for the actual history and heritage of the site at Tintagel, which was the seat for several kings of Dumnonia in the early medieval period – a fact apparently of no interest to the site’s guardians. Read the rest of this entry »

A council in Cheshire has secured a ‘landmark ruling’ from the Supreme Court that will better protect green areas from speculative housing developments. The court judgement stated that ‘No one would naturally describe a recently approved green belt policy in a local plan as “out of date”, merely because the housing policies in another part of the plan fail to meet the NPPF objectives.’ Council leader Rachel Bailey commented:

‘I am proud that this council had the courage to pursue this action. This means that we can now better protect our local communities from speculative, unsustainable development by ensuring a proper approach to the application of planning policies.’

Meanwhile….

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Oswestry Hillfort is unlucky enough to be situated in the Dismal and Philistine Repugnate of Shropshireland.

Chances are you have never visited this stone circle or even heard of it. It is tucked away in a secluded spot in Mid Wales (NGR SH 9993 0010). For thousands of years it has stood within an unspoilt rural setting. This may be about to change.

Plan of the Y Capel stone circle (After Butler and Butler, 1978).

Plan of the Y Capel stone circle (After Butler and Butler, 1978).

Windfarm developers have set their sights on the hillside on which it stands and have drawn up plans to surround it in 130m high wind turbines. The developer’s archaeologists acknowledge that these industrial scale monsters “will certainly result in harm to the overall value of the monument”, but conclude that “the fundamental value of the monument, the heart of its significance will be unaffected”. Essentially what they are saying is that because the scheduled ancient monument is not going to actually host a turbine that everything will be fine. Acceptance of this position opens the doors to development right up to the edge of every scheduled monument in the country.

Visual setting for prehistoric monuments is particularly important and to dismiss it as insignificant betrays a lack of understanding of these so ever special monuments. In this instance it certainly ignores the crucial views towards the impressive Breidden Hill near Welshpool, betraying in the process a total lack of understanding of the sites significance and place within the landscape.  Furthermore, the transformation of this rural landscape into an industrial one will inevitably also impact on associated physical remains. If this proposal proceeds, damage will result and no amount of mitigation or clever words will prevent this.

Map showing the proposed position of the turbines around Y Capel stone circle. The map is to scale and the turbines are shown at actual size in plan view. They would tower over the stone circle.

Map showing the proposed position of the turbines around Y Capel stone circle. The map is to scale and the turbines are shown at actual size in plan view. They would tower over the stone circle.

References

Butler, F. and Butler, J., 1978, ‘Y Capel: A stone circle near Cefn Coch, Llanllugan’, Archaeologia Cambrensis, CXXVII, 122-3.

Further Information
Archwilio
Coflein
Megalithic Portal
Modern Antiquarian

Details of the proposal can be found here.

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 hillfort at night (or with your eyes closed).

The hillfort at night (or with your eyes closed).

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…..

oswestry-plan.

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 …..

oswestry-gap

[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!

Pennine tunnel

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.

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statue

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….

fantasy

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.

actual

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.

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