PRESS RELEASE New report strikes further blow to County plans for hillfort housing

Proposed housing development will have a major impact on the setting and experience of Old Oswestry hillfort, reveals a new expert report commissioned by campaign group HOOOH, Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort.

Shropshire Council’s SAMDev strategic plan currently proposes the building of almost 200 houses, called the Oldport Masterplan, close to the 3000 year old Iron Age hillfort. But an 18-page report produced by historic landscape expert Dr Ben Edwards of Manchester Metropolitan University concludes that the landscape and visual impacts of the proposed development would be ‘major’, casting serious doubt over a report by the site promoter assessing them as ‘minimal’.

Produced in accordance with relevant industry standard guidelines, Dr Edwards’ Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) includes the following key findings:

  • The Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) of August 2013 undertaken for the site promoter significantly underestimates the visual and landscape impacts on the hillfort from the proposed SAMDev sites OSW002, OSW003 and OSW004.
  • The report concurs with the Heritage Statement (December 2013) produced for HOOOH by landscape expert, Dr George Nash, finding that the promoter’s HIA ‘did not follow appropriate guidance or established methodology, either in its execution, or in arriving at a conclusion of minimal landscape and visual impact.’
  • It also states in reference to the promoter’s HIA: ‘Unfortunately, the procedure for choosing and assessing impact and significance is not clear in the report; it does not cite relevant guidance on landscape and visual impact assessment (GLVIA 2013); and no quantified viewshed analysis is attempted. Unfortunately, it appears that elements of this work have been disseminated to the public as evidence of visual impact without appropriate review by a competent curatorial authority.’
  • In contrast to the promoter’s HIA, Dr Edwards describes the significance of both the landscape impact and visual impact of the proposed housing on the hillfort as ‘major’.
  • In summarising the various evaluations detailed in his report, Dr Edwards says: ‘The quality and sensitivity of the Old Oswestry landscape was described as high due to the statutory designation and national significance of the hillfort. The magnitude of change to the landscape was described as large. As a result, the significance of the landscape impact is described as major. In landscape terms, the nature of these effects is termed direct and permanent.’ Also: ‘….the significance of the visual impact of the proposed development is described as major. In visual terms, the nature of these effects is termed direct and permanent.’
  • Dr Edwards advises that a new assessment is required that follows appropriate standards and guidance, and offers his LVIA as part of this.

Today, HOOOH campaigners submitted the report to Shropshire Council, Oswestry Town Council and English Heritage requesting they carry out an immediate review of their position on the hillfort sites in response to the new findings.

In its accompanying letter to Shropshire Council, HOOOH wrote:

In light of Dr Edwards’ LVIA, we again call into question the accuracy and validity of aspects of the promoter’s Heritage Impact Assessment which has been accepted in good faith by the LPA as a reliable account of the potential heritage impacts of the proposed housing.’

They add:

We ask that Shropshire Council, being in possession of the new evidence of the LVIA report, suspends sites OSW002, OSW003 and OSW004 from the SAMDev plan, given the national importance of Old Oswestry & Wat’s Dyke, and the huge public attention as well as interest from academia and the heritage community now focused on the hillfort proposals.’

John Waine of HOOOH said: “This new LVIA report is indisputable. It confirms that these housing proposals should never have made it to the second stage of the process. To ignore the report’s findings would be to condemn Oswestry’s prize heritage asset to direct and permanent damage and show a complete disrespect for the overwhelming view of the town. We look to Shropshire Council to honestly and objectively review its previous position in the light of this key report.”

The promoter’s heritage assessment has already been criticised by RESCUE (The British Archaeological Trust) as inadequate and non-compliant with NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework). It has also been criticised by The Prehistoric Society and in Dr George Nash’s Heritage Statement commissioned by HOOOH.

Showstopper

The LVIA report, described by HOOOH as a ‘showstopper’ for the hillfort sites, follows other recent developments that have rocked the controversial proposals days ahead of key Shropshire Council meetings to agree SAMDev site allocations. A final draft of the plan is due to go out for public consultation this Spring.

In recent correspondence with Shropshire Council, English Heritage has updated its position and strengthened its opposition, now objecting outright to OSW003 (Oldport Farm off Gobowen Road) stating the scheme would be ‘over intensive use of the site’ despite modifications by the promoter.

The heritage guardians have also underlined their reservations over housing density on OSW004 (117 houses off Whittington Road) stating: ‘Because of our concerns overall, it should not be assumed that English Heritage will not object to any development proposals within OSW004.’

English Heritage also criticises the promoter’s engagement material saying it ‘includes a one-sided analysis of benefits that would result from development…In our view inappropriate development will be damaging to future potential for access and tourism initiatives in that area.’

They add: ‘Throughout the process, the scheme promoters have, in our view, not fully taken on board the significance we, and many others, attach to the hillfort and its setting.’

Welcoming and fully supporting English Heritage’s new position, campaigner John Waine said: “It’s good to know that English Heritage has the capacity and confidence to listen to new compelling evidence and reassess its position. This is too important an issue for any organisation to stubbornly hold on to an old position. Removing the threat of these proposals from Old Oswestry hillfort and securing its future protection will provide a huge boost to the growing Oswestry tourism economy!”

In another recent turnaround, Oswestry Town Council agreed to make its SAMDev response to the hillfort sites conditional on an evidence review by Shropshire Council ‘to ensure that the heritage assessment [is] compliant with NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework] through an independent evaluation.’

*The LVIA author, Dr Ben Edwards, will be among a number of heritage experts speaking at HOOOH’s forthcoming seminar and exhibition in Oswestry on February 22 which is already sold out.

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