Hardly a month seems to go by without another story of how the preservation of a battlefield site, usually in the USA or UK, is threatened by developers.
In Scotland over recent months we’ve seen moves to build houses on part of Culloden¹, to accommodate a road widening scheme (the A9) over the historic Jacobite battlefield site at Killiecrankie², and, across the Atlantic, the fight to preserve the battleground at Princeton³, New Jersey, continues.
Usually, I’m totally in support of the historians and conservationists who fight these plans, but this one weighs two things I’m really keen on – battlefield sites and self-driving vehicles!
This time it’s the Battle of Bosworth site that is under attack.
The Battle of Bosworth in August 1485 was the deciding clash of the Wars of the Roses, when the resulting death of England’s last Plantagenet king, Richard III of York, led to the start of the Tudor dynasty under the victor, Henry Tudor.
Unfortunately, part of the site belongs to a Japanese-owned automotive company Horiba Mira Ltd, who, as lead player in a consortium called Trusted Intelligent Connected Autonomous Vehicle (TIC-IT) want to build a £26 million, 1.2m square foot, test track to test autonomous vehicle technology. This is important and worthy stuff, and to be welcomed & supported. It’s part of a national strategy to make the UK a world-leading centre of excellence for the development and commercialisation of driverless cars.
Once again, it’s only a very small part of the battlefield site and right on the fringes, but it’s always that way. Nobody applies for planning permission to tarmac over a whole site! Developers just chip away at the edges.
This time, the Hinkley and Bosworth Borough Council have stalled the planning application by voting 12-2 in their meeting on 28th Aug, to defer the decision in the hope that the company can come up with a clever proposal that results in a test track without degrading the historic site. Of course, if they can’t then it’s likely Horiba will take their case to a Government planning inspector.
There is strong opposition to the plan.
The Battlefields Trust’s Vice-President Kelvin van Hasselt, told The Telegraph that “The development would be on the western side which is a critical part of the battlefield and the area from where Henry advanced.
“School children should be able to go up to the area and contemplate where Henry looked out and saw Richard’s forces, but the buildings may obscure the view and the landscape in the foreground will be changed forever. Who wants to climb a hill and just look at industrial buildings?”
Historic England has also written to Hinkley and Bosworth Borough Council arguing that the proposal will harm the site and destroy archaeological evidence which could be key to understanding “the ebb and flow of the battle as it progressed”. And a number of noted academics and historians have added to the groundswell of opposition. But you know how the government doesn’t like to be thwarted on its industrial initiatives, especially when there is potential direct & indirect job creation involved.
I too really want the test track, but Autonomous Vehicles will be developed anyway, whether at Bosworth with Horiba or elsewhere with somebody else. They are in our future. Historic sites are not in our future. They can only live in our past and, with the obvious exception of Richard III, rediscovered 530 years later under a car park, once lost they are nearly always lost forever.
What do you think?
Photo: A model of the battle. Flickr/JayT47 CC BY 2.0A