Friday, 1 July 2011

A rabbit stew, archaeology and Melton

Disclaimer: I am not, and have never been an archaeologist, although I did have a boyfriend as one once and spent a weekend at Sutton Hoo with him in the rain, as the archaeologist fiercely guarded their marmite rations, being glad I wasn't an archaeologist,before trashing my car on the way home. What follows is a personal, not professional, opinion about what a total dickwad the leader of Fenland Council is. Also, after typing "archaeology" a lot of times, my fingers hurt and I forget how to spell it. This is why I studied History instead.

You may not have come across Alan Melton. You may have missed out on the furore of last week, as Alan Melton, he of the portly jowls and job of top dog Councillor of Fenland, described archaeologist as "bunny huggers", and declaimed that he would rip up the planning regulations of Fenland, making the legal requirement to allow archaeologist access a thing of the past. He gave this speech (full text here) to a bunch of developers and builders at an awards ceremony. The whole thing is worth a read, if you enjoy pompous self congratulatory paragraphs that read like a bad AS level essay, but the salient points that were picked up by the press, and lots of other very angry people were (excerpt)

"Unemployment and state dependency could be greatly reduced if the construction industry is allowed to grow. GDP would start to improve significantly, and tax revenues would increase.
This is the message we in local government will be taking to the Local Government Conference later this month and to the Conservative Party Conference in October.
Of course, there are some local changes that we can make to make development easier. We are constantly reviewing our procedures.
I can announce tonight, that from the 1st July. A requirement for an archaeological dig/survey will not be required. The requirement will no longer feature at pre-app. Or form part of the committee agenda.
With one exception, in local known historical areas, such as next to a 1000 year old church.
The bunny huggers won’t like this, but if they wish to inspect a site, they can do it when the footings are being dug out"

So, let's see. He says, quite clearly, in a statement of intent, to a bunch of developers and builders, that they won't need to bother about pesky old bunny hugging bearded archaeologists trying to dig trenches where they want to throw up paper thin walled houses with a garden that a umbrella won't open up in. From July 1st. It's quite clear, isn't it?  He then goes onto say that......

"Of course we shall seek to be sustainable and practical, but we won’t dwell too much on the scriptures of the new religion.
I don’t believe that polar bears will be floating down the Nene in my life time or indeed my children’s.
I think we all need more convincing about some of the conflicting stories that are constantly peddled.
And as a bricklayer by trade, I regret the constant use of timber on our public buildings, and although it looks good when initially fitted, (and ticks a box),
Within 12 months looks as if it needs a coat of creosote.
DAB’s as we know them will be a thing of the past; we will be flexible, particularly around our smaller settlements, where we shall encourage organic growth."

So, on top of not bothering about any old Iron Age roundhouses that have the temerity to be lying underneath the newly planned Melton Close, global warming is all so much codswallop (Er, Alan? We live in the FENS. Like, below sea level? Do you want to rethink that statement? Hands up we're all stood behind Alan when the sea level rises! We can use him as a raft! He's quite big enough), and the DAB's (development area boundaries: they stop people from building wherever they like and are particularly important in smaller areas such as villages) are to be swept away on a tide of organic growth, presuming the river Nene doesn't rise first, as Alan says it won't anyway. "Organic". Wonder what that means. Maybe, willy nilly? Whoever wants to shuck up a big house? Wherever? Details, Alan, details.

And did you notice the clue there? Yes, Alan is a bricklayer! Although he's being disingenous here. He's a big schnozzle in the building trade. He has his own building company. He has interests in development and aggregates. How strange then, that he should want to sweep away any contraints on planning. Oh, no. Wait a goddarned minute........I've been had! Is it the tiniest bit possible that Alan isn't that arsed about my interests, or those of Fenland? Hmmm, let me think.

So, cue a flurry of angry archaeologists, a mention in the broadsheets, and a radio interview, a facebook page, me on the local Shape your Place, 32 leading archaeologists all pointing out that Alan would be breaking the law, Alan countering that it's only European law anyway, and blathering on about Eric Pickles, before someone, and Eric Pickles, quite clearly told him to shut up, before writing this speech for him. It's been written by someone who can put together a decent sentence, and is a sort of "sorry", if you call raising your hands up and saying "Well, I only meant to cause a debate, and anyway, those archaeologists said I was fat" an apology.It's the sort of apology I get from my 4 year old, before he is sent to his room again. Why Sir, you must think me an idiot, because your first speech showed clear intent and did not mention the word "debate" at all! Maybe where you said there would be no need to have any archaeologists after July 1st, a little demon was in your mouth and garbled up all your words, because you were REALLY saying, "gosh, those archaeologists chaps, I could really sit down and have a discussion with them."

It would have been better if he had. Because, as any fule kno, digging on a site does not "hold up" development any more than the person drawing the plans for the houses "holds up" development. It is part of the process, simple as that and is taken into account when developing. It's simply that some people would rather not do it. They'd rather whack up houses quick march and don't want the risk of finding a site underneath them. And, fair play, it might well be a risk. Why? Because the Fens are unique, chock full of pre-history sites that are nowhere else in the UK. The water preserves with remarkable clarity the earliest of sites. Take here, Must Farm at Whittlesey. Described as a "Pompeii" of the Bronze age, a routine dig before the area was quarried revealed finds that make up one of the biggest Bronze Age hoardes ever found. But hey, it held up the quarry! Damn those Bronze agers! It's even more important that digs take place in Fenland than ever, as since the last archaeological survey was completed in the late 80's, a huge number of sites have vanished, been ploughed and harried away. The nature of the black peat and the fertile soil of the fens means they are intensively farmed, and precedence is given to farmers, not sites. Hence, the sites on farmland are vanishing. The sites in developed areas are perhaps the only ones that we can get a good look at.

I don't know of anyone who would begrudge a dig that could enrich our knowledge of the area. No-one apart from Alan. And the rest of Fenland Council, who must have given the nod to the original speech and then had the sheer stupidity not to realise that information is viral now. Alan, even in the Fens people can use that nettyinter, and root out what their councillors are actually saying. The Council are evidently standing by him and hoping it will all blow over. It has before. Alan's a bit of a lad, thrown out once before for accepting gifts and then blurting info that was meant to be private out to the papers. And they let him back. So to my mind, both Alan and the Council are equally culpable. Oh, and the idiots that voted him in again. Possibly they are the voters with big plots waiting to be developed. Well, there's a weather eye on you now.

1 comment:

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