PRESS RELEASE: Concerns will continue until hillfort landscape is properly protected, say campaigners

Campaigners have responded to a backlash from Shropshire Council over disputed development threats within the landscape of a North Shropshire hillfort.

Hillfort protection group, HOOOH, is urging Shropshire planners to publically reject fields within the setting of Old Oswestry hillfort, which have been assessed as having ‘long-term potential’ for housing or employment. The call comes after claims by Shropshire Council that fresh concerns over possible future development in the monument’s setting are unfounded.

Located on the northern fringes of Oswestry close to the Shropshire/Wales border, the 3,000-year-old monument together with its largely unspoilt setting has been lauded as the ‘Stonehenge of the Iron Age’. This acknowledges the national importance of the monument together with its landscape for the understanding of hillfort development and tribal society in Celtic Britain. A significant portion of the hillfort’s remaining south-eastern setting is currently the subject of a planning application by Galliers Homes for 120 houses.

In a statement responding to Shropshire Council’s recent press release, HOOOH says:

“There is no misinterpretation and no confusion about the published data. We are fully aware and welcome the decision that ‘no additional development sites are proposed near the hillfort’ for the current partial review of the local plan to 2036. But Shropshire’s SLAA (Strategic Land Availability Assessment) clearly identifies seven sites   within the near landscape of the hillfort as having future development potential, while other sites with none of the heritage value or environmental sensitivity have been rejected as part of the same assessment. HOOOH therefore asks Shropshire Council to publically state that these potential sites around the hillfort have been rejected in       perpetuity.

“The Council also declared in its press release that the SLAA comprises ‘land which we were asked to consider by landowners’. A review of the SLAA document appears to indicate that two of the seven hillfort sites were identified by planners without any information on the landowner’s position. We find it extremely worrying that they should choose to assess sites close to the hillfort of their own volition. It is hard to fathom why they would throw these fields into the mix, one of which lies within just a few metres of the hillfort’s iconic western entrance.

“During the original SAMDev process, several sites were proposed for allocation to the south-east of the hillfort, prompting wide opposition. Though the sites closer to the hillfort were removed (OSW002 and OSW003), partly in acknowledgment of public objections, Shropshire Council allocated the site ‘further away’ (OSW004) as a ‘compromise’ in its final adopted plan.

“However, in the latest SLAA, the rejected OSW002 (36 houses) has reappeared as site OSW040 with an indicative residential capacity of 128 houses, while the rejected OSW003 (35 houses) is now included as OSW009 with an indicative housing capacity of 72. In addition, what would effectively be an extension to OSW004 is also featured in the SLAA as OSW058 with an indicative capacity of 222 houses. This would fall within the Council’s strategic focus for development along the A5 corridor, spreading urban growth even further through the hillfort’s eastern setting.

“We fear a potential repeat of this scenario to the west of the hillfort based on what we see in the latest SLAA, which shows five sites at different proximities to the hillfort.

“It should be noted that HOOOH and many leading academics are of the opinion that development within any of these areas would be highly damaging to the heritage significance and archaeology associated with the monument.

“Local planning appears to provide no insurance against rejected and highly contentious sites being submitted to the process again. Shropshire Council has also communicated to us that ‘the SLAA ultimately provides information which will be investigated further through the plan-making process’. Clearly, sites on the SLAA provide the first stage to strategic site selection, and the future development potential of any sites included and not rejected remains real, whether the risk is long-term or low.

“We are aware of the Council’s overarching statement for Oswestry published for the current review, as follows:

‘Additional development opportunities adjacent to the existing Development Boundary for Oswestry are now extremely restricted by the presence of physical, heritage and environmental constraints such as the setting of the Old Oswestry Hillfort; sensitive landscapes to the north and west; the Oswestry bypass to the east; and flood risk and accessibility issues to the south.’

“If development potential north of the town within the hillfort’s setting is ‘now extremely restricted’, we would request again that Shropshire Council publically discusses a more formal protection of the site such as a country park. This has been mooted by Oswestry Civic Society in its 2050 vision, a document which the council encouragingly has acknowledged and made some moves to embrace with allocations east of the bypass.

“Until the local plan provides the protection which Old Oswestry and its ancient landscape deserves, the setting of the hillfort will always be at risk from the planning system given its proximity to the town. We all know there are other places, especially brownfield sites, where we can meet local housing need while ensuring development is kept away from the hillfort and the historic landscape that forms Oswestry’s heritage gateway.

“We urge people to join us again in a display of public concern and protection at our fourth hillfort hug this Sunday (March 24), which starts at 1.30pm at the western entrance.” More information at www.facebook.com/OldOswestryHillfort or 01691 652918.

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