Campaigners fighting proposed housing development close to Old Oswestry hillfort were heartened today after Shropshire Council agreed to drop two of the three sites during a crucial cabinet meeting (19 Feb) on its SAMDev strategic plan.
But the campaign group, Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort (HOOOH), has vowed to fight on, claiming the evidence and arguments that have forced out two of the sites apply equally to the one that remains, OSW004 (Off Whittington Road) with 117 houses.
The U-turn by Shropshire Council sees OSW002 (36 houses by Jasmine Gardens) and OSW003 (35 houses on Oldport Farm) removed from the final draft of the SAMDev plan which goes out for a further 6-week consultation in March.
Explaining its decision, the Council said there were dangers in also removing OSW004 given the county does not have a 5 year supply of housing, In mitigation, council leader Keith Barrow said that there would still be an opportunity for campaigners to appeal OSW004 at inquiry stage.
John Waine of HOOOH said: “Whilst we are pleased to see two of the three damaging strategic proposals removed from SAMDev, it leaves the third proposal with even less reason to stay. The fact is, and we are supported in this by Oswestry Town Council, that a full and independent review now needs to take place of the archaeological reports from whatever source. OSW004 needs to be suspended from the SAMDev process whilst this can take place. No council with an ounce of integrity can base strategic planning decisions on reports that have been criticised as inadequate, incomplete and non-compliant by professional bodies.”
Campaigner Kate Clarke added: “We are pleased that Shropshire Council has dropped two of the sites. It shows they have been taking on board the overwhelming strength of public opposition. However, we are not convinced they have fully taken on board the core arguments for our objections. This includes the flawed evidence base that has supported the Oldport Masterplan and the damaging impacts of housing that apply equally and inextricably to all three sites.
“This is an internationally significant ancient monument and an issue of national not just local or County concern. We will campaign on to protect the setting and experience of Old Oswestry and Wat’s Dyke and the heritage corridor of Oswestry.”
Dr George Nash, who has produced an alternative heritage statement highlighting serious failings and omissions in the appraisal of damage from development to the hillfort setting, said: “This is only a part-victory. It is clear that based on national guidance produced by English Heritage on archaeological setting, land off Whittington Road cannot be developed. OSW004 is an area of high archaeological potential and any building on this site would not only destroy the below-ground heritage, but it would also block significant views of the iconic hillfort from the Whittington Road gateway to Oswestry.
“Shropshire County Council is and will be answerable to what happens to this archaeologically-rich landscape. Views from Old Oswestry Hillfort to its precious hinterlands to the south and south-east should be in perpetuity of the nation; any development will desecrate this corner of our green and pleasant land. The fight now begins over the land at Whittington Road.”
Shropshire Council’s climb down comes after English Heritage and Oswestry Town Council recently strengthened their stance against the controversial proposals in light of new evidence suggesting that the heritage value of the hillfort and impact of development have been seriously understated.
The latest is an 18-page report by historic landscape expert Dr Ben Edwards of Manchester Metropolitan University which concludes that the landscape and visual impacts of proposed development would be ‘major’, casting serious doubt over a report by the site promoter assessing them as ‘minimal’.
Dr Edward’s Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) uses industry standard guidelines and cutting edge spatial analysis techniques to model how views and the experience of the hillfort setting would be affected by development.
The methods take account of the extent of change to the landscape from development as well as the visibility of each house from the hillfort and surrounding points.
“Schematics in the report show the level or intensity of visual impact to be similar for all three sites due to their very close proximity to the hillfort,” said John Waine. “Clearly, the 117 houses at OSW004 that remain in SAMDev still account for the greater part of the visual and landscape assessment, which described the impacts as major for the original Oldport Masterplan. That won’t be resolved until all three sites are removed.”
The LVIA author, Dr Ben Edwards, is a late addition to the line-up of heritage experts speaking at HOOOH’s forthcoming seminar and exhibition in Oswestry on February 22. He will be talking in depth about the methodology and findings of the LVIA.