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Shropshire Council’s grubby machinations wouldn’t normally attract attention beyond Shropshireland. However, they’ve voted to damage a nationally significant monument in defiance of national advice so they’re under national scrutiny. So let it be noted they’ve just found their Leader guilty of offending against “the principles of Integrity, Honesty and Leadership” in their Code of Conduct but that he remains Leader! His only punishment is that he must attend “training” to ensure such “oversight” is avoided in the future. Will that help Oswestry hillfort? You decide.
Meanwhile, the evidence they’ve made a huge misjudgement on the hillfort grows ever greater and creeps ever closer. A recent appeal decision in Bredon, Worcestershire involves the same basic issues: would a housing development within the setting of a listed building and an historic monument cause more harm than benefit? The Inspector there ruled yes. The significance of that is that anyone who knows both places will know that by any honest measure the harm at Oswestry would be far greater than what has been judged unacceptable at Bredon (by both an Inspector and Worcestershire Council!)
Perhaps, nevertheless, they’ll still insist it’s chalk and cheese and far more complex than the campaigners and distinguished national experts are saying. If so that may be yet another “oversight” on their part arising from the fact they’ve failed to read Section 72 of the Bredon decision which could surely also apply at Oswestry. Far from complex, it’s rather simple:
“In view of the weight carried by the heritage harm, this harm is the overriding factor, and is not outweighed by the benefits of the proposal. Due to this environmental harm, the proposal also does not represent sustainable development having regard to the policies in the Framework taken as a whole.”
The modern archaeological industry is built upon the premise that sites selected for destruction should be recorded before they are destroyed. Following excavation the record is then deposited and the site is consequently “preserved by record”. At Mynydd y Betws the Bancbryn stone alignment was promised such treatment. Sadly whilst the first part was apparently completed the second was not. Carmarthenshire County Council have over the years been repeatedly asked for a copy of the excavation report and whilst most of these requests went unheeded recently a response was received.
“I have not had sight of any such report as part of my investigations, although I do not consider that it has undermined the fact that works have been carried out with due diligence within the development site, and that the condition imposed on the planning consent, and the reason for it, has been discharged in a way that is, on balance, proportionate and pragmatic”.
Basically they are saying that a report was not produced but this does not matter. What happens next time a developer says they will not fund the post-excavation. Carmarthenshire County Council have already set a dangerous precedent. For a site to be preserved by record there needs to be record otherwise the site has simply been destroyed and no amount of fine words will alter that fact.
To be clear a preliminary report was produced, but this included no photographs or drawings of the excavated areas. Instead photographs and drawings were limited to the areas beyond the excavation. How many modern excavation reports include only images of the areas beyond the area being investigated and none of the excavation itself?
Historic England’s Heritage Planning Case Database is seriously good. It enables amateurs to do what the professionals do (or should) which is to use planning decisions in one place as a guide to how the law should be interpreted in another.
It’s a work in progress and it doesn’t yet contain cases about hill forts but I did come across this, an application to build 59 houses on land at Partridge Green, West Sussex which will be kind of familiar to people in Oswestry (especially paragraph 53, see below, it’s enough to make you weep) – apart from the Inspector’s decision to refuse permission! Incidentally the people of Oswestry might care to note that in West Sussex there had been the usual blather about affordable housing yet the application included only 4 one bedroomed apartments and 35 three, four and five bedroomed houses. (A five bedder round there would cost you about £1.3 million).
Anyway, here are some bits of the Inspector’s report that will ring a lot of bells of regret in Oswestry. Life just ain’t fair if you’re a Salopian monument with a quite extraordinary, aberrant Council. We’ve already suggested Oswestry hill fort would be safe in West Oxfordshire. Looks like that could also be true if it was in West Sussex.
76. Sustainable development is about change for the better. The appeal proposal would assist in the provision of much needed housing in the local area and District in general. This is a highly significant material consideration and carries substantial weight in the context of paragraph 49 of the Framework. It would also have a social and economic role to play in achieving positive growth now and into the future.
77. However, such benefits would be at significant cost to the intrinsic character of the countryside and its green, open, pastoral appearance; and would not preserve the setting of the listed buildings, thereby unacceptably harming their significance…..
78. The presumption in favour of sustainable development set out in paragraph 14 of the Framework applies only to sustainable development. Taking this conclusion into account along with all other considerations set out above, including the contribution of the proposal to addressing the shortfall in housing supply, on balance, I conclude that the adverse impacts of the appeal proposal would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits of granting planning permission. Therefore, the appeal should fail.
A comment just made by Dr George Nash….
Submitted on 2015/11/04 at 09:02
Dear Team, I have just asked the Chairman of West Sussex Council if Old Oswestry Hillfort and its surrounding landscape can be incorporated into West Sussex. We want this ancient site to be administered by a useful, honest and progressive cultural heritage team; West Sussex has said…..YES. Archaeologists and the general public please be aware that Old Oswestry Hillfort and its surrounding landscape is NOW part of West Sussex. [Dismal] Shropshireland you have been a disgrace to this and other heritage assets including the demolition of the only remaining purpose-built Telford-A5 tollhouse and the threat of damage/destruction to sections of Offa’s Dyke at Trefonen – time to go back to the drawing board and rebuild the confidence of the general public. The message from us West Sussex people to the planning officers and elected members of [Dismal] Shropshireland is…..GET LOST.
We get accused of being anti-wind farms – indeed, anti development. We aren’t. That would be unrealistic. The country can’t be kept as a museum. In fact, all we’re opposed to is occasional developments which blight ancient heritage sites to an exceptional degree. Our conviction is that there are a few sites which are just too precious to be harmed at all by the twenty first century and that the planning system doesn’t have the concept of “sacrosanct” written into it, and should. The surroundings of Oswestry Hill Fort and the World Heritage landscape at Stonehenge are two prime candidates for “sacrosanct status”. Here are another two (not directly involving ancient sites but illustrating the point very well) …..
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.
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.”
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.’
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.’
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.’
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.