Landscape: a new dimension of public territorial action

Syrasbourg, Plenary  Session – Hemicycle, 27 October 2010

Speech by Devrim ÇUKUR, Turkey SOC

Dear Colleagues,

It is an honour for me to present today this report on “Landscape: a new dimension of public territorial action” on behalf of Inger Linge and myself and the Committee on Sustainable Development. I would like to specially thank Mrs Linge for her commitment and valuable input based on her long experience in politics in her region in Sweden.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the opening for signature of the European Landscape Convention, which is a pivotal treaty - the first of its kind - dedicated to European landscapes. It is a major tool for the protection and development of what are truly the building blocks of European heritage – our landscapes.

This Convention is an initiative of the Congress and it reflects our conviction – indeed, our philosophy - that landscapes, in all their diversity– be they rural, industrial, modern or historic, ordinary or outstanding – represent an indispensable part of our history and our cultural identity.

The landscape performs a significant role in people’s daily relationship with their environment, whether they live in an urban, peri-urban or rural setting. We witness, in our cities and regions, the intimate link between the landscape and the well-being of the population.

The preservation, protection, management and enhancement of landscape are a prerequisite for improving the quality of life of our communities.

Moreover, landscape is emblematic of the territorial implementation of human activities and constitutes a genuine factor in the social and economic attractiveness of territories.

This is why the continuing evolution of our landscape must be addressed from a sustainable development perspective, with an emphasis on the sustainable use of space and the search for a balance between the needs of urban and rural areas.

The Convention has modified the concept of landscape by including ordinary everyday landscapes and has opened a new dimension of public action. One of its main features is the key role it assigns to local and regional authorities and the democratic landscape management it proposes.

The close involvement of the Congress in the elaboration and implementation of the Landscape Convention is hardly surprising. On the one hand, we work at the level closest to the citizen and are well-placed to respond to the growing demands from the general public to better protect their landscape and environment, and to have a real say in how their everyday surroundings are shaped and managed.

On the other, we, local and regional elected representatives, have responsibilities for key areas which can influence the transformation of landscapes, particularly in decisions with regard to urban and spatial planning, but also matters related to employment, mobility, air quality, climate change and health.

It is true that urban planning in itself cannot deliver healthy living. However it can remove the barriers to better health and well-being. Therefore, we should avoid planning guided solely by short-term economic imperatives or we will ultimately fail to deliver a healthy environment to the people, and it will be costly to remedy. We should bear this in mind especially today, in the face of pressures created by the international economic crisis.

A landscape often evolves step by step and can be altered by individual and collective acts. The impacts may sometimes seem negligible in themselves, but together they can result in a wider transformation which may cause irreversible destruction of our societies’ heritage.

In the Congress we have always considered landscape as a common asset. We reaffirm this and question the continuing accelerating process of transformation together with standardised responses in a globalised context. Therefore in our recommendation, we call for a careful and rigorous interpretation and implementation of the Convention which takes into account all the dimensions of landscape, as just described.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are witnessing a real and growing interest for landscape in the Council of Europe member States - 32 countries have ratified itand 7 have signed the Convention, 10 years after its adoption. This momentum must continue and we call on member States that have not yet done so to sign and ratify the Convention.

Our concern today is not to lay down standards and stipulations applicable to all landscapes throughout Europe but very much to instigate democratic landscape policies geared to citizens’ wellbeing and not only to the protection of natural habitats.

It is also to make landscapes - and their recognition, protection and enhancement - a central concern of public territorial action. We must improve the social and political awareness of the importance of landscape for the sake of sustainable development and of the identity of our territories.

In the Congress, we have always advocated a collective intelligence and both these texts are an invitation to increase the role of citizens - including the most vulnerable - in shaping their daily landscape.

Improvement of landscape entails greater democratisation and is a challenge for governance. It requires a holistic and multidisciplinary approach. Local and regional authorities should make landscape a central element of their sectoral policies and include provisions for the landscape in the various legal frameworks. 

This report takes stock of the diversity of initiatives taken by local and regional authorities which are often driven by an extraordinary creativity in order to improve the attraction of their territories. Their action is not always linked to the commitment of their national government and we welcome their willingness to act in an effective and innovative manner.

The integrated approach of the European Landscape Convention is becoming a model for local and regional authorities who are increasingly involved in promoting the ideas, values and processes put forward by the Convention. They also work more and more transversally and across regional and national frontiers to succeed in their joint actions. In this respect, we welcome the work by the RECEP Network of local and regional authorities and that of other associations which bring together the civil society, research bodies and universities.

We believe that local and regional authorities should exchange further their expertise and good practice in order to act in the most adequate manner and implement more efficiently the European Landscape Convention. We also suggest that the networks maximise their impact throughout Europe and propose activities to attract a wider number of territorial authorities in our member States.

We also consider that local and regional authorities should be supported and assisted in their landscape related tasks, both at national and international level, which today represent a new dimension of public territorial action.

In the recommendation, we also insist that the landscape dimension be taken increasingly into account in European policies and we suggest that exchanges of experience be supported by the European Union. Reinforced cooperation with the Council of Europe in this field and further joint programmes would definitely help the implementation of the European Landscape Convention.

Dear Colleagues,

The texts you have in front of you today are the Congress’ contribution for a greater implementation of the Convention. We hope the Convention will become more salient in our daily environment. We will continue to promote the ideas, values and processes put forward by the Convention and we will build upon the local and regional input.

Indeed we believe that landscape should be considered a resource, it is a political issue, a vital issue for the future of our societies. Increased attention must be paid to the landscape from all levels of governance.

Thank you.