A 10-year battle to protect the landscape of one of Britain’s most important Iron Age hillforts from widely opposed development comes to a head this week. Cameron Homes’ application to build a luxury housing estate in the landscape setting of Old Oswestry Hillfort will be decided by Shropshire Council’s north planning committee at a meeting this Friday (July 28th) at Shirehall in Shrewsbury.
Although Shropshire planners are recommending approval, campaigners say that there are strong grounds to refuse the hugely unpopular application.
Local campaign group, HOOOH, said: “All eyes will be on the north planning committee this Friday. Their decision will seal the fate of one of Shropshire’s and Britain’s greatest archaeological landmarks. We trust they will balance all the evidence in their decision, including the irreversible damage that will be inflicted on a unique heritage site and the substantial local and national opposition to development.”
Local objectors include Oswestry Town Council, North Shropshire MP Helen Morgan, Oswestry & Border Archaeology & History Group, Cambrian Heritage Railways Ltd, and Oswestry and District Civic Society. Objections have also come from The Prehistoric Society, Council for British Archaeology, RESCUE (The Bri sh Archaeological Trust), Historic Buildings and Places. Additionally, members of the public have submitted 128 letters against and 12,000 objectors have signed a petition during the longstanding campaign to protect the setting of the site acclaimed as the ‘Stonehenge of the Iron Age’.
HOOOH continues: “Refusal is warranted if the proposals do not meet the special conditions enshrined in SAMDev policy S14 as agreed in the Statement of Common Ground with Historic England. These are meant to ensure the harm to heritage is minimised and the public benefits weighing against this harm are delivered. They also underpinned the Inspector’s decision to allocate the site for development.
“But a number of conditions are simply not being met. These are the northern limit for development, the provision of walking and cycling access along and across the Cambrian Railway, and improvements to the junction of Whittington Road and Gobowen Road.
“Given the overwhelming opposition to the plans, Shropshire Council must respect and adhere to policy and underpinning agreements for controversial development, or we seriously undermine public trust in the local planning process.”
While the planners’ report to the committee places great weight on the fact that Historic England has not objected, the position of the heritage consultee is much more nuanced, say campaigners.
“Historic England signed a Statement of Common Ground with condi ons for development that are easily tested and form part of the legal framework of SAMDev which Shropshire Council must adhere to.
“Historic England has also stressed that views will see ‘extensive’ and ‘substantial change’ and that planners must be sure that proposals meet the requirements of the NPPF. We believe there is a strong case that they do not.”
Campaigners have also raised concerns that the Council’s landscape consultant and conservation manager, key consultees on heritage, have remained on the fence over the proposals. This is despite both acknowledging that development would lead to ‘substantial change’ within the landscape and ‘the majority of landscape and visual effects are adverse.’
The Council for British Archaeology warns that although not ‘substantial’ in planning terms – which would be destruction of the asset itself – these impacts still constitute harm as defined by the NPPF. The Prehistoric Society calls it ‘a very significant level of harm’ relative to the monument’s significance, which would normally lead to refusal of the planning application.
In its written representation ahead of the meeting, HOOOH states that, contrary to NPPF paragraph 199, the planners’ assessment does not give appropriate weight to Old Oswestry’s significance as a designated heritage asset, especially when ‘the more important the asset, the greater the weight should be’.
HOOOH goes on to say that, contrary to NPPF paragraph 200, planners have not provided ‘clear and convincing jus ca on’ for what would be significant harm to the setting of a designated heritage asset of national significance. Campaigners insist that planners have not adequately demonstrated that the loss or harm is necessary when the 83 houses can be built elsewhere, given that more than sufficient housing land has been identified for Oswestry’s future growth, including east of the A5 bypass.
The HOOOH campaign will be a ending the meeting with support from the heritage sector in the form of an expert witness.
Proceedings start at 2pm and can be viewed remotely via the live streaming link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqCY87aT_cI