Two state agencies - The Heritage Council and Fáilte Ireland - have jointly called for the urgent introduction of a National Framework for Landscape Management in Ireland to safeguard quality of life, tourism, cultural and natural heritage and to provide more clarity in the planning system.
Welcoming the recent announcement by Minister of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government John Gormley T.D., regarding the first steps in honouring the Government commitment to develop a National Landscape Strategy, Fáilte Ireland and the Heritage Council expressed the hope that the results of their collaboration would help inform the process.
Separate studies conclude that responsibility for Ireland's landscapes should clearly lie with one organisation with the ability to advise on and influence the management of our landscapes on a national level and provide clear guidelines on land use for amenity, heritage, tourism, housing and infrastructure development, traditional farming and other uses.
Development of a national landscape strategy is a commitment in the new Programme for Government and the two state bodies want to see the strategy completed as quickly as possible.
The studies found that Ireland is now the only country in Western Europe that has not specifically legislated for the planning and management of its landscapes on a consistent national level. This view is supported by recent European Environment Agency digital mapping, which shows that Ireland has experienced unprecedented urbanisation and landscape fragmentation over the past number of years - due to extensive new housing, major road and other infrastructure projects.
This has affected open countryside, villages and towns in all parts of the country and the extent of the impact on the landscape is greater than in other parts of Europe.
The Fáilte Ireland study found that the 29 County Councils in the country each use different approaches to identify, designate and protect scenic landscapes and this disjointed approach precludes the identification of Ireland's most important scenic landscapes.
Our scenery has been a cornerstone of international tourism marketing campaigns for decades - and, in 2006, 80% of visitors rated Ireland's scenery as an important reason for visiting Ireland. The study also found that 72% of respondents in local authorities would prefer and welcome a national approach to the identification of nationally important scenic landscapes.
The Heritage Council study advises that a National Framework for Landscape Management in Ireland is urgently needed if we are to honour our commitments under the European Landscape Convention, which Ireland signed in 2002 and which came in to force in 2004.
The Heritage Council has called for a National Landscape Characterisation map and the clear requirement to have one national body or authority with responsibility for managing our landscapes. It also recommends new guidelines and training on landscape for local authorities that will improve planning decisions and provide more clarity for landowners, farmers, foresters and developers.
In welcoming the Government commitment to begin the process of consultation on the development of the national landscape strategy, both agencies consider the new reports will make a major and positive contribution to that process. The following recommendations need to be put in place urgently -
* Managing landscapes should be the clear responsibility of one body or Government Department
* A National Landscape Characterisation Map should be developed
* A National Landscape Values Map should be developed
* New landscape Guidelines should be prepared for local authorities, planners, farmers, landowners, foresters and developers
* A major national awareness programme should be launched - and
* Training programmes put place with relevant professional institutes