a) The involvement of the public is at best an iterative process. There is much to be gained from engaging local communities at the outset and to obtain their perceptions and values before involving them in the landscape character assessment process. Not only does this provide a ’control’ or baseline against which changes in perceptions and awareness can be assessed, but it also helps the professionals to understand the fundamental values and preconceptions that the local communities attach to their environment. However, the purpose of the process should be explained clearly at the beginning.
Although local residents may find a landscape character assessment difficult to grasp at first, a simplified summary is essential to enable the participants to positively and effectively contribute to the process. Without this overall picture, participants will not be able to understand the form of the report to which they are being asked to contribute.
A workshop, on completion of the classification of landscape types and character areas, enables local participants to concentrate on what makes one area different from or similar to another, on discussing historical, ecological, visual and physical aspects of each area and agreeing boundaries and names of character areas.
Ideally, the first workshop would be followed up by a second to discuss the detailed forces of change and guidelines for each area. It was found that the first workshop created a positive enthusiasm for further involvement, which could be harnessed provided that the next stage of the process is reached quickly.
b) The response from the local community needs to be facilitated independently of those professionally or politically already involved in landscape issues. Landscape practitioners, local councillors and local landscape activists have an essential role in informing local communities but need to step back and avoid leading discussion. To this end we found that a qualified facilitator leading both the focus meetings and workshops enabled a freer and franker discussion on residents’ own terms. It was helpful to have landscape practitioners and council officers available to answer queries during the workshop sessions. Local parish councillors and activists can make very positive contributions to the discussions but this can discourage contributions from less confident and articulate members of the community. To some extent this can be rectified by arranging things so that interested parties work separately from local residents. The temptation to ‘lead’ discussions should be avoided at all costs.
c) A balance of methods of engaging the local community needs to be achieved. A workshop is a very effective enabler, providing an opportunity to explain the landscape character assessment process verbally, and to discuss values and perceptions in some depth. It provides a means of developing awareness through professionally guided information, and to share ideas and views but it can only reach a small percentage of the local community. It is important to ensure that discussion groups are kept to a manageable size (up to 20 people) and all have a common topic guide to ensure consistency. Response to the questionnaires is a good way of offering a wider audience the opportunity to have input into the process. To be really effective mechanisms such as the following may be needed: good publicity in local papers and radio; the support and help of local parishes, schools and libraries; and the use of the Council’s web site.
Often the most effective means of engaging the local community is at the local level, with landscape character assessment a key component of Village Design Statements, Parish Plans, landscape capacity studies for specific types of development, the Local Heritage Initiative, and local public consultations on major developments.
d) In order to get the best response, the landscape character assessment process needs to be easily understood. This can be difficult, as a raft of terminology has developed to help professionals categorise and qualify their findings. Even the simplest expressions can either be meaningless or mean something very different to members of the local community. A glossary is essential and editing by a non landscape professional helps. Also there will be greater acceptance if the participants understand that final report is not intended for the general public but for policy makers and advisors. The use of landscape types, sub-divided into character areas, was easy to understand and envisage once explained.
Presentation style and content is important and should be designed to be concise, easily accessible and stimulating to ‘fire up’ an audience which may be unsure of how they can contribute and may be wary of professionals.
The landscape types and character areas needed to be mapped onto a clear OS base. A good list of questions to guide the discussions is a good starting point, starting with simpler ones that lead into the discussion. These are best drawn up between the facilitators and the landscape professionals.
During the workshops, the use of large scale maps on a 1:50,000 OS base or larger, with an overlay of the character areas, should be supplemented with aerial photographs, also with overlays, and photographs to illustrate particular landscape, ecological and historical features of the character areas. Modern computer visualisation methods can be used to illustrate how the landscape is built up of its separate elements and how it can be affected by the loss, degeneration or introduction of positive and negative features.
e) The use of incentives is recommended as recognition of the time and effort being expected of the participants and as an encouragement to waiverers to get involved. It is important to obtain not only the views of those who already have an interest in the landscape but also those who may not realise that the landscape is important to them.
f) Where possible a good cross-section of the community should be involved and this needs to be built into the research design. We found that this became more difficult as the level of involvement increased. Younger people often have more family and job commitments or a lower interest in their immediate community. The very elderly often feel that they cannot contribute. This obviously can result in considerable bias of opinion. The study was not able to resolve this issue but through the use of a variety of means of communication: schools, local press and radio; church groups, websites can help to reach a wider audience.
The most successful way to approach the wide diversity of peoples, who are affected by landscape issues, is to continue to develop different approaches, to target both a cross section of the community (as carried out in this study) and specific groups and to learn from current practice.
The more locally based the study area, the easier it is for local communities to engage in landscape character assessment and preparing guidelines. However, it is time consuming and requires a good level of voluntary or semi-voluntary commitment. However, we found that the local community could relate to a district level assessment, with the benefit that they could better appreciate how the area they knew well fitted into the wider landscape.
It is important that each stage of the consultation process is recorded and a summary of the responses included either within the main report or within a separate report such as this. The perceptions and values attributed to each landscape character type or area should contribute to the description as part of the cultural assessment and be linked to the issues. Communities will be encouraged if they can see that their contributions have made a difference.
Unfortunately the study did not have the scope to develop this. In some areas, as in and around Romsey, the two communities seemed to be more intertwined and links are well developed. The greater problem seemed to be the perceived divide between incomers and long standing inhabitants, and between the residents of Andover and the rural inhabitants. The way that the Test Valley Landscape Character Assessment was carried out, in common with many such studies, did not enable this process to be used as a tool to create better links. A more integrated approach at a local level, absorbing cities, towns, villages and the urban fringe into an understanding of landscape character, may assist in achieving this goal.
Better links could be built on common values on landscape issues. By mixing urban and rural communities, as achieved in the study workshop, there is an opportunity to bring these sectors together to identify common values and aspirations. The Countryside Agency’s and Groundwork’s Countryside for Towns is one such initiative.