In a last minute move, Oswestry Town Council has voted to reverse its decision on the final parcel of housing by Old Oswestry hillfort under consideration in Shropshire Council’s SAMDev strategic plan.
Last month, town councillors voted to approve site OSW004, for 117 houses off Whittington Road, as part of its SAMDev response in line with advice from English Heritage. But following revised and strengthened objections from English Heritage, campaign group HOOOH (Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort) lobbied Oswestry Town Council to follow suit and urgently review its decision.
Only last week, Shropshire Cabinet agreed to drop two of the three controversial hillfort sites which would have seen almost 200 houses built in the shadow of the 3,000 year old scheduled monument.
At a meeting last night (Feb 25) at Oswestry Guildhall, John Waine of HOOOH and heritage experts, Dr George Nash and Tim Malim, outlined the major visual and landscape impacts of the proposed development on the south-eastern aspect of the Iron Age hillfort and Oswestry’s heritage gateway.
Councillor Duncan Kerr said that only after listening to experts at HOOOH’s archaeology seminar held at the weekend (Feb 22) and examining the results of professional reports had he realised the extent to which development would harm the value and experience of the monument.
He added that making the right decision was crucial not just for Oswestry but also for Shropshire as the hillfort development was one of just two contentious sites remaining in SAMDev. The prospect of a public inquiry would delay the plan which needs to urgently progress to prevent ad hoc planning bids around the County, he cautioned.
Also referring to last Saturday’s packed seminar, Councillor Sandy Best said it was clear that significant archaeology would be lost to development as well as the landscape beauty and views of the hillfort. Councillor Kerr proposed that a vote should be taken to remove OSW004, seconded by Councillor Alan Davis.
As well as requesting the removal of OSW004 from SAMDev, the Council is also withdrawing any support for OSW003 (at Oldport Farm) following English Heritage’s new objections to this site. Both the Council and English Heritage had already objected to OSW002 (by Jasmine Gardens).
Oswestry Town Council is also requesting that Shropshire Council looks at extending protection of the hillfort’s setting to safeguard against future potential development that might harm it.
John Waine of HOOOH said: ”We applaud this landmark decision by Oswestry Town Council who have shown that they have the capacity to listen and reassess their position. Now, the question is one of respecting local democracy. Shropshire Council has shown in recent weeks that they, too, are willing to listen. We now look to them to respect the view of Oswestry Town Council, English Heritage and a host of professional guidance in removing OSW004 from consideration in SAMDev, so that together, we can proceed with the business of securing its future and sensitively promoting it for the benefit of the Oswestry and Shropshire economy for many years to come.”
The shock turnaround is set to rock Shropshire Council’s progress with SAMDev a day before the draft plan goes before Shropshire councillors for final ratification.
HOOOH campaigners will travel to Shirehall in Shrewsbury this Thursday (Feb 27) to make representations for removing OSW004 at a full council meeting.