Fenland council leader set for ‘bunny huggers’ debate with the Time Team’s Tony Robinson

He had archaeologists hopping mad - no pun intended - when he suggested they were 'bunny huggers'. But now outspoken council leader Alan Melton has been invited to debate the wider issues with none other than the Time Team's Tony Robinson.

Back at Trench Two, they weren't happy bunnies. When Alan Melton used a keynote speech to call for the rules to be relaxed on archaeological surveys, to encourage developers, he warned: 'The bunny huggers won't like it.'

Anger erupted from learned debating forums to the trenches at Norfolk's long-running Sedgeford dig, where Bunny Hugger T-shirts became this year's must-wear accessory for those excavating a Saxon settlement.

'I don't tweet, but what a wonderful day,' Mr Melton said as the row erupted. 'To be attacked by bunny huggers historic lefties and the vested interested professional classes. Eric Pickles will be extremely proud of me.'

Mr Melton and officials at Fenland District Council later issued a statement to clarify his comments.

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Now the council leader has been invited to take part in a live debate, as part of this year's Festival of British Archaeology.

Does growing the economy mean cutting back on developer-funded archaeology is the topic for discussion at London's Waterloo Centre, on July 29.

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Other speakers include the Time Team's Tony Robinson and leading archaeologist Andrew Selkirk.

Mr Melton suggested the rules requiring developers to carry out archaeological surveys should be relaxed at last month's Fenland Building Design Awards, in Wisbech.

'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,' he said.

Mr Melton - a former builder - said tens of thousands of pounds had been wasted on a dig at the Neale Wade College site, in March, Cambs.

Turning to climate change, he added: 'I don't believe the Polar Bears will be floating down the Nene in my life time or indeed my children's.'

As archaeologists launched a counter attack, Mr Melton issued a statement clarifying his remarks.

'The thrust of the overall announcement was to highlight that the council wish to pursue a pro active approach to housing growth, economic development and infrastructure provision with a specific focus on sustainability and quality design,' he said.

'Specific issues related to archaeology and conservation has raised significant debate both locally and nationally.

'My previous announcement sought, and has certainly succeeded, in prompting debate to further enhance understanding and co-operation on these important subjects.'

Archaeological groups welcomed the statement.

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