Iron age hill fort threatened by plans to build 200 luxury homes

Protesters in Shropshire say housing for ‘affluent commuters and rich retirees’ will ruin a site of national importance and set back archaeological research

The iron age hill fort at Old Oswestry. Thousands have signed a petition against building houses next to the site. Photograph: Jonathan CK Webb/Webb Aviation Aerial Photography

Old Oswestry is one of Europe’s best preserved iron age hill forts, a site that has existed for more than 3,000 years and can be seen for miles around.

The war poet Wilfred Owen completed his army training on the grassy mounds of Old Oswestry, which is also said to be the birthplace of King Arthur’s wife, Guinevere. It is likely that the Shropshire lad himself, AE Housman, would have spent time admiring the views from the fort’s majestic summit on the Shropshire-Wales border.

Now, in what critics say is a result of the government’s new planning policy, proposals have been drawn up to build almost 200 luxury homes next to the ancient site, angering local residents and heritage groups. Some 6,000 people have signed a petition opposing the development, part of the county council’s plan to build 2,600 homes by 2026 to comply with government targets.

One of 25 hill forts in Shropshire, Old Oswestry has a series of perimeter ditches, formed between ramparts, that were designed to slow down attackers. An archaeological survey in 2010 found man-made structures in fields to the north-east of the fort. Two years ago the discovery of an iron age road, thought to connect The Wrekin, near Telford, with fields near the site, indicated that there was likely to be important evidence of past cultures buried under the soil.

“If houses go up, access to important archaeology and further understanding of iron age culture will be lost indefinitely under bricks and concrete,” said Neil Phillips of Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort (Hoooh). “The sprawling infrastructure of the housing masterplan, with houses, roads, gardens, link paths and car parking, will severely erode a large part of the green farmstead setting which is an integral part of Old Oswestry’s appeal.”

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