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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….”

shropshireland

Situated 160m above sea level, the Castle Canyke hillfort to the southeast of Bodmin in Cornwall, is not an imposing hillfort. Certainly not as imposing as, say, Old Oswestry Hillfort. And yet they have something in common – both are currently threatened by developers.

Although it is Cornwall’s largest Iron Age hill fort, Castle Canyke is certainly not as large as Oswestry – there is a small modern farm building at the centre of the fort, and walls/hedges running from this building split the fort into four roughly equal fields. The southwest quandrant boundary is the best preserved, with a large bank and small ditch. In the northwest (which provides public access via a kissing gate) the ditch is more substantial, but there is no bank remaining. To the south there are a couple of large industrial estates, to the east, the junctions of the A38 and A30 trunk roads dominate. Brown Willy & Roughtor are visible on the horizon just east of north on a clear day.

Satellite image taken from Bing Maps

Satellite image taken from Bing Maps

So nothing too remarkable, and not a lot to see on site itself, And yet there is a possible Arthurian connection, and a later historical connection which make this site important for the Cornish nation.

  • The site is a possible candidate for Kelliwic (Celliwig), Arthur’s court in “Culhwch and Olwen” and the Welsh Triads. Callywith Wood is located about a mile to the Northeast.
  • The fort is also the site where Cornish forces mustered for the Anglo-Cornish War of 1549. Nine hundred Cornishmen were subsequently executed in what has been described as “a bloodbath and the most heinous crime ever committed on British soil”

So what of the development threat here? According to the “It’s Our Cornwall” Facebook page:

Last week the Council’s Strategic Planning Committee voted by 17 votes to 2 to give Hawkstone Ltd of Surrey permission to build 750 houses at Bodmin (And a hotel, pub, shops, community building, allotments and public open space). This was despite only 1 in 4 of the houses being ‘affordable’ and calls for rejection from English Heritage.

According to one press report, “due to the steep topography of the site, it would not be financially viable for developers to adhere to the normal demand that 40 per cent of the homes should be in the affordable bracket. Instead, a compromise figure of 25 per cent, which amounts to 187 affordable homes, was reached”.

Apparently a ‘green buffer’ has also been suggested between the development and the hillfort (basically the three fields to the southeast on the plan below), but there is some discussion as to whether the buffer should consist of open space, sports fields, or be left as agricultural land. The full text of the Strategic Planning Committee’s Report can be found on the Council website (PDF link)

As can be seen, the original plan was to have built over part of the scheduled monument area.

As can be seen, the original plan was to have built over part of the scheduled monument area.

And there’s the question of the extent of the development. 750 homes in one of the most economically depressed areas in Europe sounds like a good idea to stimulate ‘growth’, but as only 1 in 4 will be designated ‘affordable’ – how I hate that word – who will be able to afford the non-affordable homes in such an area? The usual answer to such a question is larger corporations. But in order to get a return on their investment, they’ll either sell them on (who to?) or let them out at inflated rents. With very low employment and pay levels in the area, it’s difficult to see how local people will be able to live in the homes, however pleasant they may be.

Once again, it seems the only people to benefit will be the developers themselves, and to hell with the heritage!

Our friends at campaign group Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort (HOOH) have today issued the following press release:

Campaigners say new doubts hang over Shropshire Council’s handling of proposed housing by Old Oswestry hillfort as planners come under fire for alleged misuse of delegated powers (Shropshire Star report 30 May 2015). 

The backlash comes as government-appointed Inspector, Claire Sherratt, revealed her findings (1 June 2015) on Shropshire’s development blueprint SAMDev. Despite overwhelming public opposition during three years of consultation, a large housing site (OSW004) in the shadow of the 3,000 year old Iron Age hillfort remains on the plan.

P1220029b

Meanwhile, Shropshire planners face claims that they are misusing delegated powers by rubber stamping contentious schemes where objections have been raised that should be referred to planning committee.  The latest involves a legal challenge over the demolition of a 200-year-old Thomas Telford tollhouse in Oswestry to make way for an ALDI supermarket.

Campaign group Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort (HOOOH) says this new revelation must call into question the integrity of decision-making in other areas, most significantly SAMDev. And scrutiny should go back to the very start to ask how development by the hillfort was ever included as a ‘preferred option’, challenge campaigners.

HOOOH member Maggie Rowlands said: “The latest crisis simply reinforces our grave concerns over the cavalier planning culture within Shropshire Council. It has virtually cast itself loose of the opinion of elected councillors and the public in order to fast-track insensitive development on heritage landscape and prime greenfield land.”

Campaigners suggest that hard steers by Shropshire planners and Cabinet, including the imperative of meeting five-year housing supply, may have fettered the discretion of councillors to motion for removal of OSW004 from the plan. This was despite being circulated with alternative heritage reports by HOOOH, produced to industry standards, calculating that development would have major impacts on the setting of the hillfort and views to and from it.

Heritage setting is recognised in national planning and Historic England (formerly English Heritage) guidance and protected in law according to the significance of the heritage asset. This should provide major weight against the approval of development affecting a monument of the national significance of Old Oswestry, whose landscape setting is an integral part of its heritage value and archaeology.

In spite of repeated requests, Shropshire planners refused to post HOOOH’s reports on the SAMDev website alongside the site promoter’s original heritage impact assessment. The latter was strongly criticised for being flawed by experts at RESCUE (The British Archaeological Trust) and was subsequently revised.

And while failing to answer HOOOH’s challenge that OSW004 did not meet five-year supply criteria due to ‘unresolved issues’, planners later revealed it was not part of five-year figures for that very reason.

“We are not surprised that Shropshire planners find themselves at the centre of these accusations of undemocratic conduct and calls for restraint,” said campaigner Dr George Nash.

“Based on recent media reports, it is clear that councillors at all levels and across the political spectrum are extremely disappointed in the way Shropshire Council’s planning department exercise their decision-making.”

He added: “This now gives us additional teeth to challenge what we believe has been a calculated bias towards keeping OSW004 in SAMDev. We believe that the original heritage assessment that carried the site through several stages of the process must be the subject of a formal independent review. Oswestry Town Council asked for this over a year ago and was completely disregarded.“

Commenting on the Inspector’s decision, HOOOH says it is extremely disappointed that the Inspector has rejected the scale of public opposition to OSWOO4 and the strong heritage case against it. This included a petition with almost 6,000 signatures and objections by twelve leading British academics of archaeology in an open letter.

Campaigner Neil Phillips said: “The planning plight to develop 117 houses within the shadow of Old Oswestry Hillfort is the thin end of the wedge.

“The use of the NPPF to sanction development over the preservation of such significant heritage landscape was surely not the government’s intention. However, the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ is propping up greedy bids to build high profit housing with postcard views of hillforts, meres and parkland.

“Whitehall needs to intervene now before the Best of Britain disappears under brick and concrete in the present rush to build houses.”

.end

Today we thought we’d re-publish an article from a while back. It illustrates how vital it is to continue to fight against housing within the hillfort’s setting – and to see some of the claims that are about to be made for what they are – meaningless smokescreens to aid someone to make loads of money at the expense of everyone else’s heritage. .

“If I eat your toes your legs will be safe!”

Trust me, I'm a developer!

Trust me, I’m a developer!

.

Oswestry is turning into a fantasy world. Eddie Bowen, from Bowen Son and Watson, one of the development agents, has said: “There is a golden opportunity here. At the moment nobody knows what will happen from a farming point of view, but once this is done that is it. There would be a public open space around it [the hillfort] and that will secure it for the future.” In case you don’t quite take it in, he is saying that building houses round the hill fort will provide a protective ring within which no-one will build houses! . Seasoned observers of developerspeak are saying they haven’t heard such stuff since the days when those masters of the dark art, Tarmac PLC, used to claim that opencast mining round the Thornborough Henges would be good for them!

.

There is NO golden opportunity here, no chance to establish a sacrosanct buffer zone, no-one can say another assault won’t ever be mounted by someone that wants to make money. If you hear it said in the next few weeks or months (and we suspect you will) it won’t make it the truth. Not that anyone should be surprised by tricky words at Oswestry. It was there that the Reverend Spooner was educated. They say he once said “You have hissed all my mystery lectures”. Maybe the people of Oswestry should say to Eddie: “We ciss on your ponservation claims….”

Oswestry - nothing to worry about

The development is to go ahead. You can take part in a Consultation – but only about the “modifications” suggested by the Inspector, not about the development itself. The document is at pains to make that extremely clear:

“Please note that the Inspector is only inviting comments on the suggested Main Modifications. Comments that do not relate to a suggested Main Modification will not be considered.”

To give you an idea how hard the door has been slammed and how ineffectual and almost insulting are the modifications, here are some of them……

Development should demonstrate appropriate regard to the significance and setting of the Old Oswestry Hill Fort……

Full archaeological assessment will be required to enhance the understanding and interpretation of the significance of the Hillfort and its wider setting …….

Ensuring long distance views to and from the Hillfort within its wider setting are conserved ……..

Development should be designed to allow views and glimpses of the Hillfort from within the site …….

The layout of development ……will be designed to minimise the landscape impact ……..

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Nixon

News release from Hands off Old Oswestry Hillfort:

Post-election announcement on hillfort housing could be on the cards

Officials may be keeping a lid on the outcome of controversial proposals for housing close to Old Oswestry hillfort in Shropshire until after the election, say campaigners.

The speculation follows further delays to the expected publication of Inspector Claire Sherratt’s findings on SAMDEV, Shropshire Council’s development blueprint to 2026. The plan includes a fiercely opposed bid to extend Oswestry’s urban edge into the hillfort’s Iron Age landscape for the construction of a large housing estate.

Campaign group, HOOOH (Hands off Old Oswestry Hillfort), was originally told that the modified plan would appear by around the middle of February for final consultation. But publication continues to be delayed, with administrators now saying it won’t be until ‘at least the end of April’.

John Waine of HOOOH said: “It’s fair to say that we are very disappointed with the delays in the modified SAMDev plan. It seems that publication may not come through until after the election and people will make up their own minds as to whether this move is politically-motivated or not.”

He added: “From the point of view of HOOOH’s campaign, now coming up to two years, we believe that the case for removal of OSW004 is overwhelming, and we have provided clear evidence to that conclusion with growing support from all quarters.”

Thousands of people, including 8,000+ petition signatories, have voiced their opposition to the hillfort estate during several stages of public consultation across three years. HOOOH believes the protracted delay in a decision on the bitterly contested development is stretching public faith in localism to the very limit. Campaigners say it would be a highly cynical move to postpone what is a politically incendiary planning judgment into post-election safety.

Campaigner Neil Phillips said: “Shropshire Council has refused to take notice of the overwhelming consensus against this very short-sighted development. Not only will it be extremely damaging to the hillfort’s heritage significance, it will also erode its tourism value which creates jobs and brings spend to the County.”

He added: “If we think our voice is not being heard in public consultation, we can always use our 2015 election vote on candidates that can demonstrate they are genuine and active heritage champions.”

Mr Waine said: “Going forward, it is clear that Old Oswestry hillfort is a precious heritage asset of national and international significance, and as such, requires protection from some form of heritage greenbelt.  The well-received BBC Radio 4 programme, ‘Making History’, which was partly recorded on the hillfort, is recognition of the fact that it has a worldwide audience keen to know more.

“Whatever the outcome, the campaign will continue to work hard to protect, promote and celebrate the ‘Stonehenge of the Iron Age’ and the ancient heart of Oswestry for the town, the county and the country as a whole.”

Speaking on the ‘Making History’ programme, the esteemed archaeology academic and author, Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe, and MP Tim Loughton MP called for the wider protection of heritage landscape.

Professor Cunliffe is among 12 eminent academics who have signed an open letter to Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, and Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, objecting to OSW004. In it they write: “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.”

As well as thousands of objectors via petition and on social media, the hillfort housing bid is opposed by numerous stakeholders, heritage and environmental groups. They include Oswestry Town Council, Selattyn & Gobowen Parish Council, RESCUE (The British Archaeological Trust), Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), The Prehistoric Society, The Society of Antiquaries of London,  Oswestry & Border History & Archaeology Group, Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Heritage Action (Heritage Journal), and Dr Mike Heyworth MBE, director of The Council for British Archaeology (CBA).

ENDS

More info from Kate Clarke on 01691 652918 or 07835 924069 or John Waine on 07972 113619,

Twitter: @OldOswestryFort
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OldOswestryHillfort
Web: http://oldoswestryhillfort.co.uk/

Open letter from senior British academics: http://www.britac.ac.uk/news/news.cfm/newsid/1209

So where HAVE they gone? Speculation has been rife since they were spirited away “for servicing” [what, all of them?] and possible “design improvements” and English Heritage announced, unhelpfully, that “they have all gone for the moment. They went about a week ago. We do not know when they will be back”. One bystander suggested they were going to be converted into luxury holiday cottages for Druids. Someone else thinks they are going to be tipped up to create a new and lucrative attraction to be called Trainhenge.

Me, I have another theory. It’s about the fact that down in Cornwall, as Sandy Gerrard has explained,  Historic England have hit on a moneymaking wheeze. They have said yes to planning permission saying that one reason is that it will result in finance to benefit the monument that is being damaged. Not a bribe you understand, just basing a decision on monetary benefits. As Sandy says, once housing developers get to hear that Historic England will support the destruction of the historic environment in return for a promise to care for what remains, it will be open season on our heritage. 

So maybe that’s where the land trains have gone …. Historic England have got ’em, have given them a new paint job and are going to drive them up and down the country bringing the good news to developers?

.

HE Planning

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.”

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