The landscaping industry had made real progress with Sustainable Development. It is one of the few industries linked to development and the greening of urban areas, which had passed through the discussion phase, and were therefore responsible for many sustainable systems actually implemented ‘on the ground’. Particularly with regards surfacing and hard landscaping products, with large suppliers such as Marshalls as well as a number of other smaller outfits providing a range of products that dealt with ‘soil sealing’ and SUDS.
Both soil sealing and SUDS are issues that are largely ignored by both policy makers and environmentalists in favour of ‘trees’ and other more visible, aesthetic contributions to the landscape. But they are without doubt the most important mitigation for both climate change and furthering sustainable progress easily achievable by the majority of the British population. The UK has an impressive record in ensuring a very low square metreage of soil sealing per inhabitant and thus ensuring soil is maintained as the important carbon store it is, second only to the oceans. It is the landscape industry who have helped to ensure this to absolutely no reward or recognition.
As the NGOs and government do battle over new proposed planning policy by way of the National planning Policy Framework, (NPPF), for England, there is a moderate voice screaming from the wings that recognises the need for the NPPF and new housing but simply wants a better draft of the NPPF with clearer definitions and with recognition of wider concerns. Reasonable requests and in line with what peripheral industries linked to development, like the landscape industry, want and need to progress as they had been doing so.
But there really does appear to be favouritism for home builders and the stubbornness by government, in facing the adversity to block progress, ignores both the progression already made in sustainable development techniques and the clear desire to adopt a sustainable approach by landscaping practitioners as identified on the Landscape Juice Network and elsewhere.
Landscape practitioners know all too well what results from a stronger home building sector. It is after all they who are charged with the clear up. Greening the impossible!
For little money landscapers arrive on building sites and; deal with the consolidated ground; halt the erosion; remediate all bare patches of soil and work with the new home owners in making sure their land is put to it maximum potential.
The evidence is now very visible; a countryside sadly quiet with the hum of nature gets noisier as you approach any town or village with a garden landscape. There are problems; the demise of the hedgehog, destroyed soils by chemicals which had been marketed as non harmful, non native garden escapees and the spread of diseases by the horticultural supply trade. But these are ‘in house’ problems which can be solved by the industry and in particular the practitioners themselves.
The continual presence of landscapers and gardeners in all communities has helped to create a vital garden landscape for biodiversity and social purposes. This is a self regulating landscape, devoid of protective legislation in the main. It is highly sensitive to the influence of the media and multi national agri-businesses but has thus far coped, principally due to the simple fact that it is an industry based on heavy client liaison made possible because the industry is predominantly small businesses and does not charge large consultation fees but can engage one on one with clients and ensure continuing good practice.
Landscapers are the real frontline in sustainable development, a fact which some designers and architects have stolen for themselves.
Landscapers are in the frontline in terms of recognising and dealing with what is the greatest threat for all trees and plants and ecosystems in the UK landscape as a whole – Pests, Diseases and Non native invasive plants.
Landscapers are disenfranchised, constantly diminished by its big cousin the construction industry and constantly subject to fashion whims of clients due to the heavy presence in the media.
It is an industry made up of very small businesses, with no association representing anywhere near a majority. The Landscape Juice Network is now the largest association of those in the landscape industry the UK has ever seen. It is practitioner based, transparent and thus ticks all the boxes with regards a ‘bottom up’ approach that is being extolled by both academic research and by government in terms of economic progression and ‘Big Society’ ideals.
The NPPF by default allows an opportunity for the practitioners to speak up for themselves and introduce the industry to the ‘policy makers’. There are cost savings to government, both local and central in empowering the landscape industry to assist against the real threats to the wider landscape as well as helping to ensure sustainable development is genuinely sustainable.
And this is the problem. The NPPF distorts the classic definition of sustainable development:
Development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’’.
The basis of what many of us were working to and indeed furthering to ensure that our work covered the economic, environmental and social factors associated with sustainable development.
But now it seems that those who had been using ‘Sustainable’ as a buzzword, a greenwashed phrase to help sell anything from a pair of knickers to cement are being awarded the chance to carry on as long as money keeps flowing.
Sustainable Development has become a loose term, loosened further by a seeming reluctance by Greg Clark and other ministers to clearly define it. Between competing businesses SD changes definition according to the moral standing of each business. Yet again it has disenfranchised the landscapers, whose very profession was usually sustainable in the first place.
It is an industry that has combined with ease traditional skills and knowledge, which are truly sustainable using natural and local products, with innovative modern sustainable products to help introduce both good design and sustainability into the urban and suburban landscapes.
We need the clear definition of sustainable to be introduced into the NPPF and thus allow the continuation of the landscaping industry as well as empowering the industry to take its rightful place as the champions of sustainable development.