In a move which is certain to reignite the controversy over the proposed housing development in the shadow of the nationally important Old Oswestry Hill Fort in Shropshire, Shropshire County Council have put amended development guidelines out to consultation starting on 1 June 2015. Local campaigners from the Hands Off Old Oswestry Hill Fort [HOOOH] along with many organisations and experts from the archaeological world, including Lord Renfrew and Sir Barry Cunliffe, had hoped the site would be withdrawn from the council’s “Site Allocations and Management of Development (SAMDev) Plan”. However, the much delayed revised draft plan, which was initially expected to have been published well before the General Election, retains a proposal to develop 124 houses on the controversial site OSW004, just a few hundred meters from the scheduled site, in a position which, many experts argue, substantially damages the setting of the hill fort as well as the local environment.
The OSW004 Site seen from Old Oswestry Hill Fort which campaigners argue shows how the infill of housing would have a substantial and harmful effect on the views to and from the scheduled site.
[Fair Use Courtesy Old Oswestry Hill Fort on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/OldOswestryHillfort ]
As reported previously in thePipeLine, [http://thepipeline.info/blog/2015/04/22/old-oswestry-report-shelved-says-hoooh/] an open letter signed by Lord Renfrew, Sir Barry Cunliffe and a roll call of senior academic experts, which was sent to the former Communities and Culture Ministers, Eric Pickles and Sajid Javid in December 2014, claimed the development would cause “irreparable harm” to the hill fort’s setting and concluded
“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 a result the campaigners are also angry and perplexed that the revised plan has apparently been agreed with Historic England, formerly English Heritage, subject to a series of conditions, including a full archaeological assessment, cosmetic landscaping and the preservation of certain views, which falls far short of what both local people and the independent experts consulted, either wanted or expected.
Shropshire Council’s draft proposal reads in full
Site OSW004 Amend Development Guidelines for Site OSW004 to read:
“Development subject to the access, layout and landscaping
and design of the site having securing high quality design and appropriate integration of development within the sensitive historic landscape. Development should demonstrate appropriate regard to the significance and setting of the Old Oswestry Hill Fort. A master plan is required for the development of the site which will apply the following design principles:
1. To inform the layout of the site, full archaeological assessment will be required to enhance the understanding and interpretation of the significance of the Hillfort and its wider setting;
2. Ensuring long distance views to and from the Hillfort within its wider setting are conserved;
3. Development should be designed to allow views and glimpses of the Hillfort from within the site;
4. The layout of development, its form, massing, height and roofscape To reflect the SoCG agreed with English Heritage Neither required. Modification reflects national guidance and provides clarity on the requirements of the policy. It does not represent a significant change. Shropshire Council SAMDev Plan: Schedule of Main Modifications June 2015 71 Ref Page Policy/ Paragraph Main Modification Reason for Modification SA / HRA Required? design will be designed to minimise the landscape impact;
5. A landscape plan will be required to design a landscape buffer along the northern and eastern boundaries of the site, to create a clear settlement boundary between the built form and open countryside. The landscape buffer will retain important views to and from the Hillfort, including from Whittington Road. The landscape plan should also include detail on appropriate vegetation and screening to ensure high quality design across the site;
6. Street lighting should be designed to minimise light pollution and sky glow;
7. The opportunity should be taken to consider measures to improve the access, interpretation and enjoyment of the Hillfort and the wider historic landscape. In addition to these design principles, and following full assessment of the significance of the heritage assets, including assessment of the archaeological interest of the site Development to be subject to pedestrian and cyclepath links to the former railway and a new footpath link between Whittington Road and Gobowen Road to improve access towards the Hill Fort.”
The Hands Off Old Oswestry Hill Fort campaign responded to the announcement that the site remained in the SAMdev plan with a defiant promise posted on Facebook.
“Just in case you were wondering. This latest staggering rejection of public opinion and of the overwhelming heritage argument against development has only fuelled our determination to fight on – as hard and long as it takes.”
All responses to the new planning guidelines must be placed with the Project Officer of Shropshire Council’s Planning Team by 5pm on Monday 13 July 2015. However, campaigners are also furious that the consultation is apparently only with regard to the suggested modifications to the original SAMdev document, not the actual inclusion of the Old Oswestry site itself.
Meanwhile Historic England is also likely to be facing some tough questions as to why it has taken a permissive line with a development site which no-one except Shropshire Council appears to want or believe is appropriate and which many other heritage and conservation experts believe is a development too far. The campaign against site OSW004 is also supported by the Society of Antiquaries of London, The Prehistoric Society, RESCUE (British Archaeological Trust),the Campaign to Protect Rural England [CPRE], and the Shropshire Wildlife Trust as well as thousands of local people.
In another unrelated move Shropshire County Council, already in hot water over the Old Oswestry plan, are to be reported to the new Minister for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, by Oswestry Town Council. The town council is furious after the decision to build a new branch of the Aldi supermarket chain in Old Oswestry, which also entailed the demolition of the 200 year old Toll House, was allegedly passed by unelected officers without reference to the relevant council planning committee.
Cllr Alan Davies was quoted in the Shropshire Star as saying
“The application was dealt with by officers and we were not consulted and had no opportunity to make any objection.
It was done under the desk and not in committee. It was not elected members, it was the employed officers that decided it was not necessary to go to the north area planning committee, and that was a shocking thing because a supermarket is a big thing for the town and they should have considered our opinions on this matter.”