In February 2003, Kirkham Landscape Planning Consultants (KLPC) in association with Gifford and Partners and Countryscape, were commissioned by Hampshire County Council, in partnership with Test Valley Borough Council and the Countryside Agency, to carry out a comprehensive integrated landscape character assessment of Test Valley Borough, known as the Test Valley Community Landscape Project. An important part of the study was to apply and test a new method of approach to involving both those bodies with a specific interest in the landscape, “‘communities of interest’, and the local communities that live, work and play in our rural areas, ‘communities of place’, in classifying and shaping the past, present and future character of our landscapes.
In February 2003, Miller Associates Ltd, social research consultants, were also appointed to facilitate focus group meetings and workshops for members of the local communities of Test Valley, working closely with Hampshire County Council and KLPC throughout the project to refine the methodology.
This report sets out the results of the study and is prepared by KLPC in conjunction with Miller Associates Ltd.
KLPC have produced a separate report, the Test Valley Community Landscape Project: Landscape Character Assessment. March 2004, which incorporates the contributions made by both ‘communities’. An earlier report, Focus Group Findings May 2003, was prepared by Miller Associates Ltd, recording the results of the focus group meetings. Transcriptions of the facilitated sessions that took place during the community workshop held on November 15th were also supplied to inform this Report.
Copies of the following documents can be obtained from Test Valley Borough Council, Duttons Road, Romsey, Hampshire:
Test Valley Community Landscape Project: Landscape Character Assessment, March 2004
Draft Summary for Consultation, October 2003
Focus Group Findings, May 2003
The Rural White Paper: Our Countryside: the future. A fair deal for rural England (DETR) 2000 made clear the government’s commitment to ‘empower local communities so that decisions are taken with their active participation’ (para 1.13).
In 2002, the Countryside Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage published the Landscape Character Assessment Guidance for England and Scotland and Topic Paper 3: Landscape Character Assessment: How Stakeholders Can Help. These two documents provide more detailed guidance on empowering local communities to engage in the landscape character assessment process.
In 2001, Test Valley Borough Council had commissioned a review of the earlier Test Valley Borough Landscape Assessment (1996) in order to test the methodology used against the most recent guidance and advice and to make recommendations for an up-to-date study to support the forthcoming Test Valley Borough Local Plan Review. This review identified the need to incorporate community and other stakeholder involvement in the process of classifying landscape character and shaping future aspirations.
A Rural Focus Group Study undertaken by Miller Associates Ltd for Hampshire County Council in 2002 had also found that there was a very mixed level of understanding of the pressing issues affecting the landscape. It was also apparent that the views of the local communities often did not accord with the accepted wisdom rising from conventional participation involving more informed stakeholder participants.
The Countryside Agency actively supports the development of new approaches to engaging local communities in the landscape character assessment process. Methods have varied depending on resources, both human and financial. The method of approach to this study was designed to contribute to this pool of knowledge, and find more effective means of involving local communities.
The aim of the study was therefore to obtain a better understanding of the attitudes and values of the local communities towards the landscape and to use those views to inform the new landscape character assessment for Test Valley and future landscape character assessments.
The Project Brief acknowledged that there is a need to try and test new and alternative ways of finding out and recording what local people, unaffiliated to any organisations and interest groups, think of their local landscape, what they value and how they would like to see the future shaped.
The project therefore set out to trial a particular methodology which could be applied without the commitment of large resources. The objective was to test the value of such an approach, to enable its strengths and weaknesses to be identified and to use the results not only to inform the landscape character assessment process within Test Valley Borough, but also to inform the national debate on how to best engage the public in landscape issues and in influencing change.
The specific objectives of community and stakeholder involvement, as set out in the Project Brief were:
To record the perceptions and values that members of the local community attach to their landscape
To use the process to encourage and develop links between rural and urban sectors of the community
To help create a greater level of public understanding and awareness of issues affecting the landscape and those aspects that create the landscape character
To involve the local community in determining the most appropriate broad strategies and guidelines for the landscape, through land management and development policy and control
To inform the Local Strategic Partnerships of environmental aspects of the Borough and County Community Strategies
This report presents the following:
Summary of the method of approach used in the Test Valley Community Landscape Project
Assessment of the benefits and disadvantages of the methodology
Summary of the effectiveness of the methodology in meeting the project objectives
Recommendations for methods of approach to community and stakeholder involvement in the landscape character assessment process
Recommendations to encourage greater community involvement in landscape issues
The need to encourage better links between urban and rural communities