Fresh anger has erupted over plans for housing by Old Oswestry hillfort following revelations that Shropshire Council has backtracked on one of its main imperatives to build.
Council leader, Keith Barrow, stated in February that the fiercely opposed scheme for 120 houses, known as OSW004, would remain in the County’s SAMDev plan to meet five-year housing supply.
But campaign group, HOOOH (Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort), says it is in possession of correspondence from Shropshire Council admitting that the hillfort site does not actually meet criteria for inclusion in five-year targets.
HOOOH member, Neil Phillips, said: “Campaigners were ignored when they wrote to the Council back in March challenging whether the site could be counted towards five-year supply. Council guidelines state that the figure cannot include SAMDev sites with ‘significant unresolved issues’ which clearly applies to OSW004, then as it does now.”
The group says it has been vindicated by a recent email in which senior planning specialist, Dave Wallace, reveals: “The Whittington Road site, OSW004, is not currently being counted in the Shropshire five years’ housing land supply, as we consider that the unresolved objections are significant pending the outcome of the SAMDev Plan examination.”
Under government planning rules, local planning authorities must demonstrate they have a rolling five-year supply of deliverable housing. Latest figures show Shropshire has 5.47 years supply, almost 1000 houses above what is an arbitrary rather than mandatory target.
“It seems that the Council is not averse to moving the goalposts and undermining public opposition in order to get this glut of houses built next to one of Britain’s most important Iron Age hillforts,” said Mr Phillips. “Can we really trust that the SAMDev process, held up as a beacon of public inclusion and local empowerment, has been conducted by the Council in a fair and transparent way?”
Dr George Nash, an archaeologist and one of the campaign’s advisers, said: “This development has clearly been steam rollered in without any due care or thought. It appears that transparency and localism, concepts that we cherish dearly within a democracy, have been largely ignored by a council foolhardy enough to make a stand against the public’s wishes so soon before a telling election.”
This latest controversy over the widely criticised scheme comes as appointed Inspector, Claire Sherratt, prepares for public hearings next month on the soundness of the SAMDev plan.
HOOOH claims that the hillfort development is ‘creaking’ under a glut of contention points. These include questions over its compliance with heritage guidelines, the density of proposed housing, as well as its progress in SAMDev on an evidence base criticised for being partial and informed by a flawed heritage assessment.
“And let’s not forget that it has no community mandate evidenced by huge public opposition over several stages of consultation and some 10,000+ objectors through petition and Facebook,” adds Mr Phillips.