European space and landscape

by Merfyn Williams *

Landscapes and landscape designations have been a much neglected sphere of activity at the European level for years. Whilst nature conservation matters and the issues of the physical aspects of the environment such as air and water quality have been addressed by a whole series of measures, the matter of 'landscape' has been rather ignored. There are many reasons for this but two stand out as providing the greatest difficulty (for administrators!) and they are:

  1. the perception that landscape protection has been regarded as an elitist concept and
  2. the fact that landscape appreciation has been regarded as a subjective matter and therefore not subject to the rigours of science.

All of that is now changing with the increasing recognition that progress in all policy areas, be they economic, social or environmental, cannot be pursued in total unless they are assessed within a landscape and spatial framework.

In other words, it has been realized that policies cannot be promulgated successfully unless a) questions are asked of where the outcomes of these policies are going to take place and b) what impact will they have on the landscape and, hence, people's environment.

In respect of the question of 'where?' this is viewed in terms of spatial planning. Spatial planning helps to ensure that development is more sustainable by guiding appropriate development to where it is needed, respecting environmental constraints, preventing inappropriate development and, where necessary, enhancing the environment. To put it another way, spatial planning embodies a coherent territorial approach to development.

On the European level this is being addressed by what is called the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP) whose main policy aims include a more balanced and polycentric system of cities with a new urban-rural relationship and prudent management and development of the natural and cultural heritage.

There is reference to the development of renewable energy "with due consideration of local conditions, especially the cultural and natural heritage".

Under the aegis of the National Assembly Planning Minister, Sue Essex AM, Wales is making great progress in adopting the tenets of the ESDP through the Wales Spatial Plan (WSP) subtitled 'Pathways to Sustainable Development'. Thus, the Wales Spatial Plan will provide the 'where?1 to the Sustainable Development Scheme.

So far so good, but what about landscape?

There is what is called the European Landscape Convention which falls within the sphere of the Council of Europe (Conseil d'Europe). This has 41 members including the European Union states and is an umbrella body that leads the way in conservation thinking.

The aims of the Convention are to promote landscape protection, management and planning, and to organise European co-operation on landscape issues and two paragraphs in the preamble state:

"Noting that the landscape has an important public interest role in the cultural, ecological, environmental andsocial fields and constitutes a resource favourable to economic activity and whose protection, management and planning can contribute to job creation."

"Aware that the landscape contributes to the formation of local cultures and that it is a basic component of the European natural and cultural heritage, contributing to human well-being and consolidation of the European identity."

The Convention has 18 Articles where it calls on the Member States to fully integrate landscape into their land use planning and management and increase awareness of the significance of landscape through education and promotion.

In a speech introducing the Convention, Riccardo Priore made the point very forcefully that 'landscape' must be adopted by society as a whole and that the elitist concept is now outdated and inappropriate. He makes it clear that the Convention applies to all landscapes whatever their location, urban or rural and whatever their quality.

The Convention will serve to democratise the concept of landscape quality. He calls the landscape a "complex asset" where every citizen has a role:

  1. To establish a tangible and feeling relationship with the land
  2. Derive spiritual and physical benefits from this relationship
  3. Take part in determining the landscape features of the area s/he lives in.

That is, in fact, very much why CPRW was established in 1928 and very much what it is about today.

The United Kingdom has not signed the European Landscape Convention as yet and CPRW's challenge to the National Assembly is to persuade Westminster to put the UK on the same footing as other progressive countries of Europe and integrate 'landscape' fully into its policies.

* Article published in Rural Wales 1 (2002), page 16-17


Near Pontrhydfendigaid


This document has been printed from

© 2005 Pathways to Cultural Landscapes

With the support of the Culture 2000 programme of the European Union