Recent developments in planning and economic policy have raised fresh questions over a housing bid within the archaeological footprint of one of Britain’s most important hillforts.
This is the claim by campaign group, HOOOH, which is urging planners to remove housing land (OSW004) controversially allocated near Old Oswestry hillfort from Shropshire’s SAMDev local plan.
Campaigners say that new economic initiatives reliant on the hillfort’s appeal, as well as a boom in housing land supply and updated heritage guidance, have chipped away much of the already shaky foundations on for endorsing the site on SAMDev two years ago.
They point to current economic regeneration on in Oswestry which is seeking to capitalise on local heritage and character in moves to become both a Business Improvement District (BID) and a Heritage Action on Zone.
Objectives of the Oswestry BID include building on the town’s rich heritage for tourism and developing a diverse and rewarding environment. Heritage Ac on Zone status would facilitate investment in rejuvenating the town’s historic centre and conservation area. The prospectus for Oswestry’s Innovation Park specifically cites Old Oswestry as a key asset in its selling pitch to encourage businesses and investors to the area.
Shropshire’s recently published Economic Growth Strategy also stresses the importance of Shropshire’s historic assets in helping to promote economic growth, as well as the need to “nurture them to ensure they are sustained for current and future generations to enjoy”. In addition, Shropshire’s Core Strategy describes the “character, quality and diversity of Shropshire’s natural and historic environment” as the County’s “greatest asset”.
Long-serving hillfort conservationist, Maggie Rowlands, said: “We cannot understand why these strategies are not feeding into the planning system, and why SAMDev cannot align with them by conserving Old Oswestry’s landscape, which is integral to the appeal of one of Shropshire’s most iconic heritage assets.
“You cannot continue to market Oswestry and Shropshire with iconic green aerial images of Old Oswestry, or attract people in from the by-pass with views of the hillfort, if those fields become housing.”
HOOOH member, Neil Phillips, said: “The hillfort and its hinterland landscape are iconic with outstanding heritage, environmental and tourism value that should prevent any development encroaching on them. OSW004 is simply unnecessary, especially when we have a glut of housing land and thousands of homes with planning permission which are not being built.”
Recent figures show that the County’s 5-year housing land supply is running at a 24 per cent surplus. The council also admitted earlier this year that there were more than 11,000 cases of housing with planning permission where construction had not yet started.
“If Oswestry becomes a Heritage Action Zone, this will provide scope to get redundant residential properties in the town centre back into use, reducing the need locally to build new houses,” Mr Phillips said.
Latest planning advice from Historic England underlines the need to avoid harm from development in the setting of designated heritage assets when making local plans. The advice also stresses the importance of identifying gaps in the evidence base and discussion with community groups concerning land alloca ons, both points of criticism of the handling of OSW004 in the original SAMDev consultation.
Mr Phillips added: “OSW004 does not meet the strategic vision for Oswestry, nor recognise the value of historic assets and their role as economic drivers embraced in County policies. The SAMDev review is about updating the plan to reflect changes in local strategies and national planning, so we have an opportunity to put things right.”
HOOOH has been waging a 4-year fight against the alloca on of 117 houses which would breach a longstanding town boundary safeguarding the hillfort from urban enclosure. The 3,000-year-old hillfort and its setting are deemed so important to Iron Age understanding that they have drawn comparisons with the pre-eminence of the monument and landscape of Stonehenge for Europe’s late Stone Age.
HOOOH has published advice on how to support the interests of Old Oswestry in the current SAMDev review consultation, which runs to December 22. Details can be found on the Old Oswestry Facebook page or website: oldoswestryhillfort.co.uk