North Shropshire MP Helen Morgan visited Old Oswestry hillfort earlier this week (3 May 2022) in response to residents’ concerns over plans for a luxury housing estate in the near landscape setting of the Iron Age landmark.
Members of the HOOOH campaign and Oswestry Heritage Gateway community group welcomed hosted Ms Morgan’s visit, making a first stop with her to view the proposed development land (OSW004) from the B4580 Whittington Road.
Ms Morgan discussed concerns about the potential loss of tourism opportunities capitalising on the hillfort as the centrepiece of Oswestry’s historic northern gateway. She observed that tourism and heritage assets are seen as a key part of economic growth in current Shropshire policies.
Ms Morgan also heard about residents’ worries over traffic congestion, experiencing the problem first-hand. Kate Clarke of HOOOH said: “Before we could even reach the site, we had to wait for several minutes for a gap in the traffic to safely cross Whittington Road. Traffic volumes are already pushing the limit of acceptability and would be made worse by an additional 80 houses.”
During discussions, it was recognised that places for new homes, especially affordable housing, are needed. But campaigners pointed out that a raft of potential housing land, that does not impinge on the hillfort setting, has been identified to more than meet Oswestry’s future housing needs.
Moving on for a tour of the hillfort itself, Ms Morgan was impressed by the 360-degree views across North Shropshire and to the Welsh hills. The delegation stopped to view the proposed housing land located to the south-east, extending to within 300 metres of the hillfort base, discussing the visual impacts of the development on views, the loss of green curtilage, as previously respected by town planning, and the potential to add to accumulative harm from the town’s northern creep.
Archaeologist and campaign supporter, Dr George Nash, outlined Old Oswestry’s long history, highlighting features and findspots in the surrounding landscape, providing evidence of Neolithic activity through to WWI military archaeology.
Ms Morgan was interested to learn about the hillfort’s rich wildlife including rare or at-risk plants and insects revealed by a BioBlitz ecological survey in 2018. The hillfort is a local wildlife site (LWS) and part of the Oswestry Uplands, one of 159 National Character Areas (NCAs) designated by Natural England for their special landscape, and historic and environmental value and distinctiveness.
At the end of her tour, Ms Morgan said: “North Shropshire has a remarkably rich heritage, and Old Oswestry Hillfort is a real jewel in the crown. It is one of those sites that makes you really proud to live in Shropshire, with views over to the Wrekin and beyond from the top. I am keen to help campaigners in protecting this site and can only thank them for such an informative and important tour of the hillfort.”
In her maiden speech in the House of Commons in January, the Lib Dem MP spoke about North Shropshire’s rich history and how Shropshire’s strong agricultural traditions can be linked back to prehistoric farming activities in the hillfort’s landscape.
On 28 March 2022, Shropshire planners refused permission for an application by Galliers Homes to build 83 houses on OSW004 which was allocated in Shropshire’s SAMDev plan. But campaigners say they are bracing themselves for a potential revised application at some point in the future.
[Photo: View of proposed housing site (OSW004) from Whittington Road that will obstruct vista towards hillfort – L to R: Maggie Rowlands, Dr George Nash, North Shropshire MP Helen Morgan, Neil Phillips]