The Irish Landscape has been severely damaged by a sustained period of economic growth and turbo-charged development. At the opening of the 2009 Landscape Conference, Michael Starrett, Chief Executive of the Heritage Council welcomed the Government’s commitment to developing a National Landscape Strategy but called on them to take a step further and introduce a Landscape Ireland Act.
Michael Starrett, Chief Executive of the Heritage Council said, "now is the time to act and make a difference for the future of our landscape and for all of us who live, work and play in that landscape. In the past, elements of the Irish Landscape have been handled without any coordination and often conflicting sectoral planning and land-use policies. One need only reflect on the current farm incomes crisis, the decline in rural tourism, and the damage done to countless urban and rural landscapes during the Celtic Tiger era, to agree there has to be a better way in the future; one that can be embodied in integrated, sustainable landscape management'.
"While we welcome the Government's commitment to develop a National Landscape Strategy and the opportunity to input into it, we believe it is only a first step. In the long term, what we need is a Landscape Ireland Act, which will focus on overall landscape planning, management and conservation".
"A Landscape Ireland Act would go further and legislate for efficient and effective ways to conserve and manage both our rural and urban landscapes. It would be a different form of legislation. Enabling and not enforcing. Identified measures would recognise and address the needs and aspirations of all stakeholders - people living in towns and villages, farmers and other rural dwellers, and visitors to our landscapes. This is a new way of working together", added Mr. Starrett.
The 2009 Landscape Conference, which is organised by the Heritage Council, and runs over three days, is an opportunity to share experiences of how others have met such challenges in other countries; how decision-makers in Ireland view their impact on landscape and, above all, to discuss with local communities the landscape management initiatives they have taken in the absence of any overall national landscape strategy.
"The objective is to influence the agenda for Ireland’s landscape into the future, pointing Ireland in the direction of the best legislative framework and most appropriate structures required to achieve it", Mr. Starrett said.
Over the two and half days, attendees will hear from speakers from across the globe on how they have developed legislation and structures to meet similar challenges, as well as from key stakeholders at home, such as the IFA and major land users and promoters such as Failte Ireland, Teagasc the EPA, Coillte and the local authorities. Two sessions on Wednesday and Thursday will feature discussion on local community case studies. All of the papers will be available on the Heritage Council website and a conference report, taking in to account the discussions and issues raised, will be placed before Council in December.
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, John Gormley will address the conference, as well as Maguellone Dejant-Pons, from the Council of Europe, Professor Richard Forman, the renowned landscape ecologist from Harvard and Pat Smith of the IFA.
"This Landscape Conference and the government’s commitment to a National Landscape Strategy has the ability to mark a new beginning for Ireland’s landscape. In legislating for change, we need to empower and enable local communities to agree on the future management, conservation and planning of their local landscape", added Mr. Starrett.