The Heritage Council has just published its report – Proposals for Ireland’s Landscape.  From the Heritage Council’s perspective, the Irish landscape is a core cultural resource, a source of identity, and a sustainable economic  resource through farming, forestry, tourism and heritage – it is both our inheritance and our gift to the future.  They argue that over the boom years we lost sight of this, building one-off McMansions all over the countryside, built on floodplains, constructed estates, retail parks, industrial units, etc, in, and routed roads through, inappropriate locations that impact on the natural/cultural landscape and the lives of citizens in negative ways that leaves a poor gift to future generations.

“Things are always in flux, and the accelerated pace of building and development witnessed over the last decade in Ireland has left a mixed legacy of successes and failures that we are going to have to live with for the foreseeable future. Greed masquerading as ‘development’ visited an enormous amount of unwanted and unnecessary change on the Irish landscape during this period. [These developments] are permanent reminders of what happens when profit is put before people. …  Even if there were no economic crisis, the utilitarian approach to the landscape witnessed over the last decade would still have been unsustainable because it is onedimensional and exploitative, both of the finite bank of natural resources and of people.  We can no longer be passive about landscape management or the capacity of nature to forgive our excesses.”

They have five proposals as part of the National Landscape Strategy for moving forwards that re-prioritises landscape and sense of place as a resource in the here-and-now and a gift for the future drawing on the European Landscape Convention (ELC):

  1. Establishing a Landscape Observatory of Ireland (LOI)
  2. Introducing a Landscape Ireland Act
  3. Landscape proofing of existing primary legislation, government programmes and policies
  4. Promoting a vibrant research and learning culture on landscape
  5. Increasing public participation, accessibility and the use of local knowledge in landscape management

They would like to see landscape proofing to become an active part of local and regional planning, be community-led and participatory, and be central consideration in the work of state agencies such as NAMA (which is predominately concerned with economic matters, rather than landscape inheritance).

The extent to which citizens will want to prioritize landscape over their sense of entitlement to build where they like is debatable, and is likely to divide communities between the imperatives of individualized and collectized inheritance.  Nevertheless, the Heritage Council is right that this is a debate we need to conduct and work through to decide on the landscape gift we want to leave the next generation.

Rob Kitchin