oversaw the listing of the Abbey Road studios and other modern sites (and the submission of a Wikipedia page as evidence in a listing case), and will doubtless be considering the future of listing and scheduling – assisted by English Heritage’s new National Heritage Protection Plan. But even a new high for scheduling might achieve little if the wishes of a Cambridgeshire council leader were to become national policy. In a speech on behalf of Fenland district council on June 21, described as a “defining policy statement”, Alan Melton laid out his plans to “maximise the benefits of large scale development” – and remove requirements for archaeological investigation. Melton, who describes himself as a quantity surveyor, National Trust member and bricklayer, was doubtless being rhetorical when he said, “There are of course some areas where we have a duty to the local community”; ratepayers might justly ask, “Only some?” He dismissed fears of changing climate: “I don’t believe that polar bears will be floating down the Nene in my lifetime.” But he had more to say about archaeology.
From July 1, he said, there would be
Bunny huggers at work in councillor Melton’s patch, at Must Farm
24|British Archaeology|September October 2011
no planning requirement for an “archaeological dig/survey”, except, perhaps, “next to a 1,000-year-old church”. “The bunny huggers won’t like this”, he judged, “but if they wish to inspect a site, they can do it when the footings are being dug out”.
The system Melton dislikes has been responsible for decades of archaeological investigation of material that would otherwise have been lost without record, transforming the story of the country’s past. Mike Heyworth, CBA director, pointed out on the Radio 4 PM programme that the suggested changes would be illegal. The Times published a protest letter from over 50 archaeologists, and Melton seemed to have few supporters. On June 30 Melton said the council had no intention of breaking the law, but was seeking a more “reasonable and flexible” approach to protecting “Fenland’s unique conservation and heritage assets”.
The future Alan Melton claims “an excellent relationship with Cambridgeshire county council archaeology team”, a rapport that may now need a little burnishing. Don Foster, a Liberal Democrat MP with a personal interest in heritage, raised the matter with the secretary of state for communities and local government, Eric Pickles. He replied the government did not intend to include such measures in the localism bill, which gives councils no powers to deregulate planning in ways described by Melton; Foster called the councillor’s comments “crass”. We may have clarification in October, when Melton has promised to “take the message” to the Conservative party conference.
It might be claimed that each of these cases reflects no more than innocent, if damaging, ignorance. With better education about the law, the argument would run, the problems could be avoided. Landowners would not bulldoze monuments and councillors would not advocate trashing heritage (in an approach that if pursued, would almost certainly cause more trouble for builders than the present system of advance liaising). It cannot help that English Heritage, apparently losing sight of the importance of archaeological monuments, is one of the parties that should be spreading knowledge.
There is always a place for education. But teaching can become preaching, and risks doing little more than address bureaucratic process and being seen as meddling. As the next contribution makes clear, there are more positive and powerful ways to involve a wider public in archaeology.