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Landscape’s impact on infrastructure

BY RUTH SLAVID, Editor

Photographer: Agnese Sanvito

One of the few bright points for the construction industry, which is still reporting dismal figures, is the government’s go ahead for the new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset, announced in the middle of March. Another is the announcement of the route for the second, northern, part of the High Speed Two rail link. And in his budget, the chancellor pledged a further £3 billion a year of infrastructure investment.

If nobody is getting too excited about these, it is because the chancellor’s pledge was seen as insignificant, particularly as it was not ‘new’ money but being taken from other departments. And the other two projects have too long a time-scale to have much impact on employment prospects now.

It is not true of course to say that nobody is getting excited. Many people are very excited, chiefly about wanting to stop the projects. Debate about the expansion of Heathrow and/ or a new airport for the southeast is similarly incendiary. This is because you cannot have large infrastructure projects without having considerable environmental impact.

It is ironic then that infrastructure in general and power generation in particular is beginning to play such an important part again in our rural landscape, decades after the last evidence of industry has disappeared. There is a generation now that has never seen a working coal mine, that probably regards the odd well-grassed former slag heap as a geological anomaly.

The rapid growth in numbers of wind turbines is a major issue, although not the only one, with which landscape and visual impact assessments have to deal. The turbines have moved from being curiosities to having a frequency that impact on views both of land and sea. Solar farms are likely to follow their trajectory, although they will not dominate the horizon in the same way.

Would the detractors of wind farms have felt as hostile if they were set among pitheads and belching steel works? We will never know. But the fact that our perceptions are always changing makes the process of assessment a tricky one, which needs to be carried out with the utmost rigour and professionalism.

The new edition of Guidelines for Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment, discussed from page 13 onwards, incorporates changes to legislation and increases in knowledge and best practice. But most importantly it places the professional skills and judgment of landscape professionals at the heart of the process. They may even find themselves arguing for interventions which some consider eyesores and which will become the treasured gems of the future.

For many landscape architects, dealing with the impact of proposed infrastructure developments will be a major part of their workload in the coming years. It is good to know that they have the best of tools to help them do it.

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