The ink has barely dried on Shropshire’s SAMDev plan but Shropshire Council is already making changes by sacrificing housing land for commercial development.
This is the claim of Oswestry campaign group, HOOOH, which says County planners are carving up sites with little regard for neighbourhood needs or even its own adopted local plan.
The group states that a wedge of land on Oswestry’s Sustainable Urban Extension (SUE), clearly allocated in SAMDev for housing, is being sold for commercial development.
In 2013, employment land in the south-east corner of the SUE was rezoned for homes, boosting housing numbers from 750 to 900. More than compensating for this, Shropshire Council added 38 hectares of new employment land to SAMDev on sites east of Oswestry’s bypass, including the forthcoming Mile End business park.
But selling agent details for the 3.5 acres advertised on the SUE say it ‘falls within the commercial element of the Oswestry Sustainable Urban Extension’, with suitability for uses such as ‘car showroom, trade counter, leisure, offices or hotel.’
HOOOH believes that the U-turn will either mean a reduction in homes, or higher density development and less room for intended community amenities and green space.
The group is fighting widely opposed development seen as a foothold to long-term town expansion swamping the ancient landscape of Old Oswestry hillfort.
“Recent headlines have been dominated by the OSW004 hillfort estate as if the town’s housing needs hinge on this site,” said HOOOH member Neil Phillips. “But we should be asking why a start has not yet been made on the 900 homes on the SUE, an uncontentious plot agreed for major housing development by Shropshire Council as long ago as 2010.”
Campaigners claim that lead developer, J Ross Developments, appears to have prioritised its bid to build prestige country retreats at Brogyntyn Hall even though the SUE will provide a large proportion of the town’s affordable homes.
Mr Phillips said: “Shropshire Council has spent five years consulting on a local plan which we have been told delivers the required housing targets and balance of development for Oswestry to 2026. But they are already changing details approved by councillors and a government-appointed Inspector. If U-turns like these are possible, then surely the door can still remain open to reverse the planning principle for development at OSW004?”
Shropshire Council is also accused of handing other potential housing land over for ‘quick bucks’ development. At one time allocated for 24 houses in SAMDev, the new ALDI site in Shrewsbury Road saw planners controversially fast track the demolition of an 18th century Thomas Telford tollhouse.
Dr George Nash of HOOOH said: “Shropshire planners appear intent on feeding current demand for commercial land at the expense of housing. Yet at the same time they insist that Oswestry so badly needs new houses that they have no alternative than to build by the hillfort.”
It is speculated that permissions for ALDI and a LIDL store in the south of the town have contributed to the halt of the adjacent Smithfield retail development. With outline planning since 2010, the 16 acres site was due to provide up to 1,000 jobs. Campaigners say it is tying up precious brownfield land which could be considered for alternative opportunities including houses.
Dr Nash added: “The government is urging local authorities to develop brownfield ahead of greenfield sites. Not only is OSW004 good grade agricultural land, it also lies within the most historically significant quadrant of a nationally important heritage site.
Mr Phillips said: “The authorities are quick to point to the housing crisis to justify building within the hillfort’s setting and Oswestry’s heritage gateway. Yet just up the road, acres of housing land at the SUE are still untouched.
“People just want a fair and transparent approach to the town’s development, but are seeing only inconsistency and too much decision-making behind closed doors.”
HOOOH recently held a public meeting to update residents on the hillfort campaign and discuss future action. It used the event to launch a membership initiative to harness growing community support.
A public exhibition in Oswestry this Thursday (10 March) concerning the SUE has just been announced.