CAMPAIGNERS are holding a fourth hillfort hug as planners map out a long-term vision to build more housing near the ancient landscape of Old Oswestry.

A planning application by Galliers Homes is already under way for 120 houses near the ancient landmark a following the firm’s fiercely-opposed allocation in Shropshire Council’s local plan in 2015.

The council has outlined even more land for potential long-term housing in its plan review which HOOOH (Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort) says would see even wider devastation of a site celebrated as the ‘Stonehenge of the Iron Age’.

HOOOH says that the fields targeted include some land previously ruled out of the local plan during consultation – and that development within the hillfort’s unspoilt surroundings “flies in the face” of a recent landscape assessment commissioned by the local authority itself, which categorises the area as highly sensitive to development.

An HOOOH spokesman said: “This is a strong indication that Shropshire planners believe there is scope for further town growth northwards into the hillfort’s setting, using the town boundary change to accommodate Galliers’ scheme as the precedent.

“People have come out in force at previous hugs and we urge them to show their support again as the threat of development to this national jewel closes in from all sides.”

The hug on Sunday, March 24 is adopting the theme of ‘SOS – Save our Setting’ to claim the landscape is as vital as the hillfort itself to its iconic status.

The group added: “The local community has always been keen to look at other places for housing, such as sites east of the town proposed in Oswestry Civic Society’s 2050 vision. This suggests some form of landscape designation, like a country park, to better preserve the hillfort’s setting. HOOOH, Oswestry Town Council and other stakeholders have also long requested that the local authority consider more appropriate protection of its landscape.”

Old Oswestry together with its hinterland is just one of a handful of Iron Age monuments along the Marches which are unique in both design and setting, says the campaign.

Archaeologist and heritage expert, Dr George Nash, said: “This is one of few remaining opportunities left for the public to make a stand and tell the local authority and Historic England what we feel about the devastation of a national icon by these ill-conceived schemes. Now is the time to unite; the clock is ticking on the unspoilt vision of Old Oswestry as we know it.”

People are being asked to meet at the hillfort’s western entrance at 1.30pm for a 2pm start. Heritage experts will be giving spot talks on the hillfort and answering questions. Participants will form a circle of protection around the hillfort plateau as with previous hugs in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Old Oswestry is described by English Heritage as ‘one of the greatest archaeological monuments of the nation’. With a series of unusual hollows or pits at the western entrance, it is regarded as a pre-eminent site for the understanding of Celtic Britain and European prehistory.

HOOOH says that many residents in Oswestry, Shropshire and the wider national heritage community feel that the significance of such a monument and its setting is not being recognised by Shropshire Council.