Unheralded Arrival of A National Landscape Strategy

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In the midst of the Kenny and Burton ‘Come Dancing’ performance of the cabinet shuffle and the furore over the ‘Farthing Brook’ on-off farce, an important event went unheralded on 1 July 2014 when the cabinet approved the launch of a draft National Landscape Strategy. Terry O’Regan reports.

As one cog in the slowly grinding gears of the landscape sector, should you care about this milestone? More importantly should you rouse yourself to get involved in some way?

We have heard much about the economic landscape and the political landscape but ‘landscape’ as an unattached word relating to place, space and greenery all too rarely figures in documents emanating from government departments; I would therefore suggest that you might at least download the strategy document and accompanying press release from the then Minister Jimmy Deenihan www.ahg.gov.ie – see July Press Releases.

You may not find specific references to the landscape industry as such, but nor will you see specific references to the many other sectors who are all stakeholders and players in the management of the great resource that is our landscape – that is the nature of such wide-ranging strategy documents.

But dig or drill into the document and you will realise that this strategy just might give rise to a long-overdue strategy for the integrated planning, management and maintenance of parks, green spaces and the wider public realm and the green dimension of the commercial, institutional and industrial sectors and where the skills and resources of the landscape industry will find gainful sustainable employment.

I have been involved with the seven year process that has led to this document. I am not entirely happy with the final document even though some of my contributions appear there word for word. But it is a huge advance on some of the earlier dysfunctional versions.

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It reasonably closely follows the structure of the European Landscape Convention – probably one of the best constructed and integrated conventions to emerge from Strasbourg covering context, definitions, scope, aims, legislation, policies, strategies and procedures, public participation, cross-sectoral policy integration, awareness raising, training and education, identification and assessment, shared experience and best practices, setting landscape quality objectives, implementation, European co-operation, European landscape award and more besides.

My reservations relate to the overemphasis on Landscape Character Assessment (LCA) in the Irish strategy document which in my opinion is a limited tool in the realisation of the far-reaching aims of the ELC. Bearing in mind that LCA has already been haphazardly implemented in an uncoordinated manner at municipal level in Ireland, there is a very real danger that LCA will be a convenient cul-de-sac of distraction – wasteful places much desired by lazy academics and public servants.

Believe it or not LCA only relates to one subsection (C) of four subsections under Article 6 of the convention and at that it is not the only methodology that might aspire to deliver the intent of subsection C. I am currently doing my best to get the over-inflated and overpromoted LCA back into perspective in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe – it has had a head start but might be running out of steam as it is rather like a racehorse on a treadmill.

So I suggest that you ignore the over-emphasis on LCA in the strategy document and imagine what might be achieved if everyone was to take up the challenge at the end of the first page of Minister Deenihan’s foreword:

‘We must start to plan holistically for its [our landscape’s] sustainable future’

If you grasp the potential of this strategy (provided it does not just gather dust on the department shelves) then send a submission to the new Minister of AHG Heather Humphreys before 8 August 2014 (*see footnote below), urging her to move the strategy forward within the framework of all measures set out in the document and not to get bogged down in LCA.

Doing your bit as an active citizen is not an easy role to play in Ireland. You may well feel you are wasting your time, but consider the following – over the past 20 years I have lobbied many politicians of all hues on the issue of landscape policy. In 1996 I met Jimmy Deenihan in his home in North Kerry and he listened to my pitch. He took what I had to say on board. Over the intervening years in opposition and in government he has fought the good fight for landscape right up to that fateful cabinet meeting on 1 July 2014. And he did not forget that meeting outside Listowel in 1996 – he rang me the following morning on his way to a meeting in London to tell me the good. What goes around sometimes does come around!

*Public comment or observations can be sent to Built Heritage & Architectural Protection, Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Custom House, Dublin 1 or nls@ahg.gov.ie by 8th August 2014.

Terry

TERRY O’REGAN, B Agr Sc Hort (hons), FILI, MIoH, founder of Landscape Alliance Ireland, has served the landscape industry in Ireland for some 45 years and advanced the intent and aims of the European Landscape Convention for some 20 years; he now divides his time between providing landscape consultancy services in Munster and working as a Council of Europe international landscape & heritage expert in Kosovo. He continues to promote and refine his ‘jargon-free’ landscape circle methodology and is currently leading a pilot study on its use at local and regional administrative levels in Kosovo. The LAI website will shortly be re-launched as www.lai-ireland.com, contact Terry at terryjoregan@gmail.com or 021 487 1460.