PRESS RELEASE: Shoddy treatment of iconic Iron Age hillfort site continues, say campaigners as housing masterplan is revealed

Masterplanning for a housing estate in the landscape of a nationally important hillfort has exposed the folly of allocating the site in Shropshire’s local plan, say campaigners.

People have until July 10 to comment on the Phase 1 and 2 planning applications, submitted by Berrys on behalf of Galliers Homes, for around 120 houses on land (OSW004) allocated within the close settng of Old Oswestry hillfort.

Campaign group HOOOH says that the application is an injustice to the heritage significance of the nationally protected Iron Age site, with off-the-shelf housing and debatable compliance with Historic England’s design criteria, among other things. They claim that the sub-standard and seemingly rushed Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) downplays the site’s heritage value and, in particular, the development impacts on the setting of a Scheduled Monument of national significance.

The group said: “The masterplanning, inadequate design and heritage impact assessments show that the very high degree of significance of this unique hillfort and its setting is not being recognised, nor are the impacts of development on their significance being appropriately assessed or mitigated.”

They point to one section that states: “In the 2,800 years of the Hill fort’s existence, there have been very significant changes to its hinterland. It is difficult to predict what the setting of the Hill Fort will be in 500 or 1,000 years’ time but it is fairly certain that the impact of this development will be superceded (sic) in time and its impact is theoretically reversible.”

In response to the statement, which has angered many residents and heritage experts, campaigners say: “Despite the immense sensitivity of the proposed scheme, this goes to a ridiculous extreme in disregarding and attempting to undermine the heritage importance and setting of an acknowledged jewel of British heritage. It also fails to address Historic England’s guidance on development within the setting of a designated heritage asset and the Statement of Common Ground which they agreed with Shropshire Council requiring a design that enhances the setting of the scheduled monument.”

Moreover, campaigners claim that housing on OSW004 would be the thin end of a wedge in encouraging the potential for more development in the hillfort’s setting in the future.

Elsewhere, the plans reveal that the presence of the historic Vyrnwy Aqueduct running under the site has necessitated the addition of attenuation ponds and a pumping station at the eastern extreme of the masterplan to deal with surface drainage. This appears to take the development outside the new town boundary so is not compliant with the local plan, challenge campaigners.

They query why, as an ‘emergency action on climate change’ town and county, there is no indication of energy efficient design or carbon footprint reduction in the housing designs or overall scheme. They also dispute how the EIA transport assessment can realistically evidence that the town centre is within easy pedestrian reach.

Development not ‘a given’

HOOOH maintains that development is not ‘a given’, even though the land allocation is included in Shropshire’s SAMDev plan.

“The scheme needs to resolve onerous masterplan and design conditions to the approval of Historic England, as set out in the Statement of Common Ground,” HOOOH says. “This still leaves scope for refusing development, as formerly confirmed in comments by Historic England’s regional inspector in a BBC Radio 4 programme about the hillfort.”

Leading heritage organisations and academics of British archaeology have been stepping forward with further statements of significance for the hillfort and its surrounding landscape, acknowledged as the Stonehenge of the Iron Age.

The latest comes from Professor Vincent Gaffney, Anniversary Chair in Landscape Archaeology at the University of Bradford, who says: “Old Oswestry is unique both regionally and nationally, and our knowledge of the site, and its setting, has significant implications for our understanding of society and the economy of Iron Age Britain, and also the succeeding Roman period.

“Thoughtless and unsympathetic development of the area around the hillfort will diminish Old Oswestry’s value as a historical and an amenity resource for regional communities, as well as visitors to the area, for many generations to come and perhaps forever. Such developments must be reconsidered and stopped.”

Campaigners say that the appearance of a second property address for the development, along with new planning application numbers, has confused and frustrated those attempting to track the highly controversial application on Shropshire Council’s planning portal. “The public expect and deserve transparency over such a contentious site,” they commented.

Topography

HOOOH goes on to make reference to the ‘holding back’ of the Jasmine Gardens development, built in the 1990s, in line with the natural topography of Llwyn Coppy located south of the hillfort. They say that houses on OSW004 would extend directly into Old Oswestry’s eastern landscape, no longer respecting the topography of the hillfort’s setting and starting the highly damaging enclosure of its eastern aspect.

The group adds that previous masterplans for the area had initially sought to extend development across a large part of the eastern setting. They suggest that OSW004 was only reluctantly accepted by Historic England under extraordinary pressure both from Shropshire Council planners and the site promoter’s agent, and would not happen now.

HOOOH points out that under the current review of Shropshire’s local plan to 2036, Shropshire Council has stated that no more land around the hillfort will be allocated for development. The Council’s latest Landscape Visibility Sensitivity Assessment identifies this landscape as particularly sensitive for the setting of the hillfort, an assessment that, had it been undertaken for SAMDev, would have underpinned the decision not to allocate the land in the first place.

HOOOH said: “This new outlook accords the correct weight to the heritage stature of both the hillfort and setting and to the community’s cultural appreciation of them, as a result of the huge opposition to OSW004 and expert opinion to evidence Old Oswestry’s national importance. If OSW004 was being considered for the local plan now, it would undoubtedly be rejected, too. We would urge those wanting to conserve this outstanding heritage site that there is every reason to keep objecting.”

They continued: “People have until July 10 to comment on the Phase 1 and 2 applications. We have explanatory information on our website about the key issues for those looking to object. Don’t ignore the warning signs; this controversial development will go ahead if we sit back and do nothing.” The weblink is: http://oldoswestryhillfort.co.uk/planning-threats/

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