Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 42

Memorandum submitted by the Landscape Foundation

FORWORD

  Landscape design is a key factor in creating successful spaces through urban regeneration, economic development and rural management. However, the role of landscape designers is too often confined to cosmetic adjustments in urban areas, restoration of historical parks or protection in the countryside. Landscape, where it touches the everyday life of people, can encompass wide ranging forms of environment, and embraces a number of contemporary issues including housing, transport, commerce and leisure. Landscape design considers much more than the experience of horticulture.

  The advent of National Lottery funding provides an opportunity to focus attention on the possibilities of creating new landscapes and examining the important role that landscape design can play in the broader cultural life of Britain today. Evidence would suggest though, that in the system of distributing lottery funds there is a disproportionate slant away from a creation of the new towards the refurbishment of the past.

  Planning has the potential to promote high standards of landscape, and landscape issues are beginning to find a new place in planning policy and development practice in the UK. Generally though the role of landscape design is often to ameliorate the adverse impact of development. Landscape design can, and should, provide the larger picture to any scale development and not be concerned only with detail.

  The arena of urban regeneration is currently strapped by professionals keenly protecting what they perceive as their threatened position. Each profession makes its own bold claims. Planners claim to be in the best position to oversee the regeneration process, architects to be the natural leaders of a new build team, urban designers to bridge the gap between other professions and public artists to understand the real concerns of the public. Landscape designers seem to lie low.

  Today's most impressive achievements in regeneration are by people who have abandoned professional jealousies learning instead to collaborate and consider the whole. The fostering of collaboration and development of multidisciplinary practice is the most appropriate way forward. Increasingly the importance of landscape issues is interest, both for understanding the environment that is hoped to be changed and as a means of changing them.

  The opportunities open to landscape design through the under-exploited lottery funds and under-achieving planning system are enormous. It remains to be seen who will provide the leadership to make the most of them.

 SUMMARY

  1.  Innovative landscape design can be the key to successful urban regeneration, economic development and rural management. Yet the UK is failing to take advantage of major opportunities to create new and ambitious landscape schemes.

  2.  The Heritage Lottery Fund should support the creation of new landscape design projects, not just (as at present) the restoration of existing parks and gardens. There needs to be a revaluation of policy regarding the meaning of "Heritage". Heritage (particularly a heritage represented in landscape) can be safeguarded and enhanced, not by simply preserving or restoring a status quo, but by adding to and creating new situations which keep the cultural value of heritage alive.

  3.  The Arts Council Lottery Fund should support the creation of new landscape as an integral part of art commissioning. It should also encourage the commissioning of new public art to take into greater consideration the wider context of landscape setting.

  4.  Government should establish a major programme of funding for new landscape schemes as the first environmental programme of the New Opportunities Fund.

  5.  Government should issue Planning Policy Guidance to ensure that landscape considerations are integrated into planning at every level.

  6.  Local planning authorities should include policies on landscape design when they review their development plans. They should also insist on landscape framework plans being prepared for any development of significant size or sensitivity.

    "Why is it, I wonder, that we have trouble agreeing on the meaning of landscape? The word is simple enough, and it refers to something which we think we understand; and yet to each of us it seems to mean something different."

John Brinckeroff Jackson

INTRODUCTION: NEW LANDSCAPES AND CONTEMPORARY LIFE

  Any definition of landscape has to be broad. Landscape is the changing human and natural habitat; it is also the topographical form and visual appearance of land. Landscapes are perceived through the way these components combine in a way that is distinctive to particular localities and the way they are informed the cultural and historical associations of place.

  Lottery funding made available for enhancing existing "heritage" parks is very welcome and has focused attention on the past achievements of those who created landscapes to fit the ambitions of former times. Many of the qualities these schemes offered at the time they were built still remain to be experienced. However, the requirements for open and public space today, are considerably different from one or two centuries ago and the context of a contemporary Britain that defines these requirements is changing ever more rapidly.

  The shift towards more leisure orientated society in a hi-tech post industrial economy is having considerable impact upon the way space is used and perceived. Leisure is increasingly pursued indoors, digital communications allow more activities—work and pleasure—to be focused in the home. The environment of shopping, or the landscape of retail, can now be found under one roof in private malls rather than public streets. Out of doors activities are packaged within clearly defined locations, often away from urban centres, whether it be the theme park, the golf course of National Trust property.

  The more traditional urban landscapes of the public realm—the piazza or square—created to encourage free association, civic rituals have lost much of their original significance and are rarely created anew. People are more likely to frequent the shopping mall or airport. However it still remains that it is the experience of public space which contributes to people's understanding and identity of place.

  Other factors conditioning the experience of public space in Britain today include the increasing reluctance or inability of local authorities to take on responsibilities for managing public space. At the same time there is a widespread concern that development should be sustainable: using resources efficiently, with a concern for the legacy that will be left to future generations. At least in this, parks and other green spaces are valued for their role in promoting understanding of natural processes.

  Housing, transport, production and leisure; maintenance and sustainability. These are some of the issues to which the design of today's parks and open spaces should respond. Doing so may lead to very different design concepts, But, it will be only by exploring these issues will we find ways of meeting today's needs.

Case example: Burgess Park

  The plan for Burgess Park drawn up on behalf of Southwark Borough Council by EDAW aimed to place the development of the park in a broad contemporary context.

  Burgess Park in Southwark, twice the size of St James's Park, is the result of an ambitious plan (proposed in Abercrombie and Forshaw's 1943 County of London Plan) which was never properly executed, mainly due to lack of funds. It remains an opportunity to create a great park in an area in desperate need of regeneration and improvement. To the people of Southwark, the investment involved in the original hopes for the park and in clearing the site of more than 2,000 houses could be said to be a significant part of their heritage. But discussions with the HLF have indicated little likelihood of success for any application for funding under the current Urban Parks Programme. (The plan, having failed to attract Lottery funding, is now being implemented piecemeal.)

HERITAGE LOTTERY FUND

  The Heritage Lottery Fund is already having a major impact on Britain's public parks through its Urban Parks Programme. Launched in 1996 with a target budget of £50 million the HLF has already committed more than £100 million to projects. Many of the parks receiving Lottery money do not enjoy funding from any of the established government quangoes such as English Nature, nor are they necessarily a statutory obligation of local authorities. A large number of these parks had been allowed to fall into a state of neglect, through under-funding and poor management contributing to their old age.

  The aim of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) is to safeguard and enhance the heritage of the United Kingdom.

  The HLF definition of heritage is:

    "buildings, objects and the environment, whether man-made or natural, which have been important in the formation of the character and identity of the United Kingdom and which will be a vital part of its future".

  This definition alone can be interpreted as limiting the programme's potential for creating anything new, and contributing to future heritage. The question remains whether it is possible to apply some flexibility to this definition of heritage.

  If, according to the HLF's own definition, the UK's heritage is passed down in the form of "buildings, objects and environment", then this heritage is also established in larger context of these objects in relation to a sense of place. Heritage is also passed down through people's memories, through rituals and celebrations, and through historical associations. The principle that a civic sense of ritual and celebration is relevant today can be evoked through the creation of new spaces.

  There is a strong strand to current thinking on planning (reflected in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Planning Policy Guidance Note 1) that stresses the importance of enhancing the identity of a place by designing and building with a sense of what is locally distinctive. Development can submerge local distinctiveness beneath expressions of the needs of volume house-builders, current trends among architects and designers, or the marketing of corporate images. Alternatively, development can help to reinforce a place's setting, traditions, history and associations. In other words: its heritage.

  The HLF quotes Ruskin in stating that, "The measure of any great civilisation is in its cities, and a measure of a city's greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces, its parks and its squares."

  All towns and cities are continuously changing. Their heritage changes as well, each generation adding something which those who come after will value. Contributing to that process is itself a way of ensuring that the heritage of a place remains part of its contemporary life and memory, rather than slipping into an inaccessible past.

  Safeguarding and enhancing the heritage (the HLF mission) depends on more than just preserving buildings, objects or environments of historical importance. Those buildings, objects and environments must have sympathetic contexts and appropriate uses. The most positive means of providing such contexts and uses will often be to create new landscapes.

  The HLF has a Local Heritage Initiative (a partnership with the Countryside Commission) that goes some way to recognising that heritage can be kept alive by people interacting with it. With some emphasis on community-led projects the successful completion of the initiative in its current pilot phase will be followed by a programme with up to £40 million of HLF funding for many small scale projects around the country.

  The Local Heritage Initiative aims to:

    "[help people] link the past, through the present, to the future."

  It defines its focus as:

    "[the] many ordinary landscape features [which] don't have a special `heritage' label but provide the context for nationally recognised heritage."

  The Local Heritage Initiative publicity further reads:

    "To focus exclusively on our finest national assets risks divorcing them of meaning. . . . Lack of value is often mirrored by lack of care, which leads to erosion and loss of local heritage and a loss of richness to daily life. . . . Places are cultural as well as physical entities. . . . It is local people who are best placed to determine how people, events and activities in the past have made their place special today and how this distinctiveness can be retained for the future. . . . It is small features, the traditions and customs, the distinctive items and the special local places, which together create our greatest national asset—our living landscape."

  This attitude behind an HLF initiative confirms an important point. Heritage (particularly the heritage represented by the landscape) can be safeguarded and enhanced, not just by preserving or restoring things, but by doing and creating things which keep the cultural value of heritage alive. Heritage can be lost, even though its physical manifestations remain, if it is no longer valued. Conversely, heritage can be developed by celebrating features of our landscape which have been neglected.

  New landscapes can safeguard and enhance heritage when they:

    —  Improve the setting or views of a heritage feature;

    —  Contribute to the celebration of heritage;

    —  Enhance the value (or the public's appreciation of the value) of a feature or features whose importance as heritage had been undervalued.

  On these grounds the HLF would be justified in furthering its existing objectives by selectively funding the creation of new landscapes and the improvement of landscapes which until now have not been considered a sufficiently important part of the national heritage to receive HLF funding.

  Such an emphasis on seeing heritage in terms of how people value heritage would be a practical way of supporting the aspiration in the Government's White Paper The People's Lottery that "Lottery funding should become, over time, more focused on people rather than buildings."

September 1998


 
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