Fens “bunny hugger” row latest - now the archaeologists hit back at council leader

Archaeologists today hit back at a council leader who said he'd cut controls on developments, warning 'the bunny huggers' won't like it'.

Alan Melton, leader of Fenland District Council, used the term in a keynote policy speech, at the council's design awards in Wisbech on Monday night.

Announcing he planned to scrap the need for archaeological surveys when new developments get under way, he added: '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.'

Tonight umbrella group the Archaeology Forum said the speech had sparked 'anger and disbelief' among archaeological community.

In a statement, it said: 'Archaeology Forum members have been in dialogue with English Heritage and with

Cambridgeshire County Council today to coordinate action in response to the statements made on behalf of Fenland District Council earlier this week.

'In the meantime, we can clarify a number of issues. The suggestion in news reports that national planning policy for the historic environment (PPS5) - and in particular the requirement for pre-application archaeological assessment - will no longer apply to FDC's planning decisions and will be 'suspended' from 1 July is incorrect.'

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The forum said the archaeology of the Fens was of 'national and international importance'.

'The fragile equilibrium that maintains the exceptionally preserved sites of the Fens' prehistoric and early communities is vulnerable to uncontrolled development,' it added.

'Current planning policy works well to ensure that the most important sites are managed in a way that protects them while still allowing new development to take place.'

Earlier today, the 3,000-strong Institute for Archaeologists said it was aware of the article on edp24 and Mr Melton's comments were 'particularly concerning'.

In a statement published on its website, it added: 'IfA is aware of a recent article on www.edp24.co.uk reporting the planned relaxation of planning regulations, particularly in relation to the historic environment, by Fenland District Council in order to encourage new development.

'Alleged comments regarding the proposed abandonment of archaeological survey are particularly concerning and IfA will be contacting the council to ascertain the facts of the matter and to seek reassurance that existing historic environment planning policy and legislation will continue to be upheld.'

Mr Melton's comments drew a flurry of tweets and e-mails. But today he appeared unrepentant.

'I don't tweet, but what a wonderful day,' he said in an e-mail to Conservative colleagues.

'To be attacked by bunny huggers, historic lefties and the vested interested professional classes. Eric Pickles will be extremely proud of me.'

One archaeologist said he had contacted Mr Melton about his remarks.

'I did email Mr Melton yesterday evening pointing out that what he was attempting to do was illegal under EU law, and that it would make the planning process slower and more expensive,' he said.

'I received a reply from him this morning which simply read: 'Long live Eric Pickles'. I assume this is

what passes for reasoned debate in his part of the world, or may be an attempt at humour.'

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