Sunday, 26 June 2011

Tory Councillor: No More Archaeology on my Patch

The obsession with British archaeology with 'Treasure' and its media coverage is reaping its rewards. Tory councillor Cllr Alan Melton, Leader of Fenland Council, Cambridgeshire, working on the principle “no growth equals no investment”, recently announced that from July 1st 2011, developers would no longer be required to observe the archaeological and heritage requirements of planning conditions. He says:
We will of course not seek to break the law, but we will be practical [...] 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.
well, British archaeology has indeed been giving out conflicting stories about the value of finding shiny stuff and then demanding developers finance trenches dug in mud which contains no shiny stuff. So the developer "would not seek" to break the law when Treasure turns up unexpectedly on a building site but it seems that beyond that some are suggesting society need not go.

As the CBA said - "this example of unilateral policy-making on the hoof foregrounds a much more serious prospect: an era of local business-led, planning that may find it too much to resist the temptation of setting aside inconvenient truths about the impact of development on the historic and natural environment." Rescue has a similar response; the Archaeology Forum likewise. But are the public behind them?

The full text of Cllr Melton's speech is here, there is a Facebook page here (currently 895 members) and a petition here. Note that its organizers set themselves a target of "5000" signatories, in a country with fifty million people who current ideology has it are all "stakeholders" in the archaeological resource as common heritage - and at least 8000 metal detecting artefact hunters who are supposed to be responsible and all have a "passionate interest in the past".

It seems to me that British archaeology has dropped the ball and unless there is legislative (unlikely) and administrative reforms (even more so) strengthening the position of archaeology, we will be seeing many more Cllr Meltons in coming years. Certainly a first step towards any reform of growing attitudes is a return to emphasising that archaeology is not just a hunt for gold and silver objects which is precisely the picture that the public is getting from a decade and a half of the main form of "outreach" done by Britain's largest organization established for the purpose. This has undone many decades of hard work which was putting forward a more accurate picture of what archaeology is (was) about.

UPDATE 27.06.11
I did not hear it myself (the player does not operate outside GB), but to judge from the reaction of others talking about it afterwards, the Philistine Councillor made a complete ass of himself when faced with the reasoned arguments of Dr Mike Heyworth (CBA Director) on national radio. Good, but that still does not resolve the underlying problem of the way archaeology is perceived by the public.

Vignette: Cllr Melton addresses local about future Philistine planning policies in the pipeline.

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