The Heritage Council of Ireland's Work and Commitment to Ireland's Landscapes
Presentation by Michael D. Starrett, Chief Executive of the Heritage Council at the National Association of AONBs Conference University of Ulster, Coleraine on the 6th July 2009
This paper is in two parts. The first presents the current work programme of the Heritage Council and places that work within the context of radical changes currently being undertaken to transform public services in Ireland. The second takes the Council’s commitment to prioritise policy and priorities for Ireland’s landscape and seeks to illustrate how the integrated approach Council adopts in its day to day activities regarding the natural and cultural heritage has application in the future conservation, planning and management of Ireland’s landscapes.
PART ONE – THE HERITAGE COUNCIL AND ITS WORK
The Heritage Council was established in July 1995, under the Heritage Act, 1995, to ‘propose policies and priorities for the identification, protection, preservation, and enhancement of the national heritage’. National heritage is defined in the Act as including:
- monuments landscapes
- archaeological objects seascapes
- heritage objects wrecks
- architectural heritage geology
- flora heritage gardens and parks
- fauna inland waterways
- wildlife habitats
In particular, the Heritage Act, 1995, charges the Heritage Council with the responsibility to:
Promote interest, education, knowledge and pride in, and facilitate the appreciation and enjoyment of the national heritage;
- cooperate with other bodies in the promotion of its functions; and
- promote the coordination of all activities relating to its functions.
Council has a Chairman and Board appointed by the Minister of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Council has 15 full time staff based in its Headquarters in Kilkenny. Since its establishment Council has helped establish and continues to support significant additions to Ireland’s Heritage infrastructure. These include the following
- The National Biodiversity Data Centre (9)
- The Discovery Programme (13)
- The Irish Landmark Trust (5)
- The Local Authority Heritage Officer Programme (26)
- The Irish Walled Towns Network (1)
- The Wicklow Uplands Council (3)
- The Woodlands of Irelands (1)
- The Museums Standard Programme of Ireland (1)
The numbers in parenthesis are the numbers directly employed within the relevant programme.
In 2008 the Heritage Council’s financial allocation was approximately €20m.
Transforming the Public Service – Government Statement
Following a detailed report prepared for the Irish Government by the OECD, the Government issued a statement on transforming the public service.
This statement makes very clear Government intent to transform public services through a series of clearly targeted directions. The Introduction to the Statement, whilst making it clear that the Public Service is already changing, emphasises the Government belief that it must now change even faster.
Tackling climate change merits specific mention as does the requirement to undertake new tasks in new ways both at individual and organisational levels. The Statement recognises that there is significant gain in productivity, in value for money and in satisfaction of the citizen to be realised by public service organisations and employees working across organisational, professional, sectoral and geographical boundaries. Such a statement holds no fears or obstacles for the Heritage Council which has built its success to date on such requirements and has continued to be flexible and focused on the partnerships required to allow it to provide the highest level of public service. However Council needs to articulate this much more clearly and implement its own changes much more quickly.
Section 12 of the Government Statement deals specifically with the State Agencies such as the Heritage Council. This section clearly identifies that Government is putting in place new arrangements for setting performance objectives for agencies and for monitoring their delivery. In particular Government states that it will
Require all agencies to publish Output Statements relating the resources allocated to them with target achievements
It is particularly in this context that the ongoing development of Council’s work must be considered.
2008 – Doing Business Differently
Since adoption of its Strategic Plan 2007 –2011 Council has been involved in a programme of structural and cultural change, change designed to allow it to work to the themes of the Plan in a more integrated and focused manner. Council’s main themes of activity focus on
- Raising Awareness and AppreciationResearch and Surveys
- Policy Advice
- Heritage Infrastructure
- Best Practice
The Heritage Council has as a result implemented a number of key changes as to how it does its business. These changes are to ensure the support structures Council has in place to allow it reach the high-level targets set in the Strategic Plan 2007-2011 would act in the most efficient and effective manner possible. A new staff structure with Heads of Service responsible for reaching the high level targets in the Plan became effective in March 2008. This change coincided with the move to Council’s new national Headquarters, Aras na Oidhreachta which was officially opened by the President of Ireland, Mary MacAleese on the 11th April 2008.
In order to specifically address the issue of Output in relation to the resources allocated to it, 2008 saw Council introduce a Strategic Plan Reference Number for all actions and for all expenditure. This allows the measurement of expenditure on each of the Themes in the Strategic Plan. The targets set for the themes can be measured in terms of the actual actions and outputs and the relative cost of achieving that target.
Whilst the data is in the earliest stages of its interrogation and will require some adjustment to reflect its true contribution to the achievement of targets, the system is suitably developed to allow Council to indicate input usage and output delivery for each of the Themes in the Strategic Plan. For example the table below shows the cost incurred in 2008 on each of Council’s Strategic Themes.
STRATEGIC THEMES HIGH LEVEL TARGETS COST 2008
1 Raising Awareness and Appreciation To continue growth in positive public attitudes to heritage €1,321,590
2 Heritage Surveys/ Research Analysis and Evaluation To provide science based data on the socio economic value and significance of our national heritage and promote its recognition in future policy initiatives €1,659,819
3 Evidence Based Policy Advice To propose evidence based policy advice to secure the sustainable management of the national heritage €1,002,733
4 Heritage Infrastructure To ensure that emerging plans and strategies at national, regional, county and local level take heritage into account in a substantive manner €9,118,922
5 Best Practice in Conservation and Heritage management To develop long term links with professional institutes and third level institutions to establish specific training and development opportunities for all practitioners, wider community/heritage groups and students €3,508,499
6 Business Support €2,817,379
In the most general sense the figures show that Council continues to invest its financial resources heavily in the development of heritage infrastructure particularly through the heritage officer programme and its general grant schemes to its key partners. This investment seeks to influence at a strategic and local level the significance with which heritage is viewed. There is ongoing commitment to best practice in conservation, significantly boosted by the success of the Irish Walled Towns Network, an initiative that also has a major impact on raising awareness and has brought clear economic benefit. Investment of financial resource in research and policy development, whilst relatively small in comparison does not reflect the true resource allocation in terms of management of, and consultation on these areas of activity. A number of key policy proposals will emerge as a result later in 2009.
The following paragraphs describe some of the Council’s key work and outputs in line with the expenditure on the above strategic themes.
Key Outputs – Accessibility and Enjoyment
The recent opening of the Heritage Council’s national headquarters, Aras na hOidreachta by President McAleese provides a facility for the organisation and indeed the wider community. The new HQ and its use reflect Council’s vision to make our national heritage accessible to and enjoyable by everyone. The building is designed in such a way that the ground floor with its Community Room and reception area can facilitate a broad spectrum of public use. And so it has proved with a total of over 80 events occurring in the 12 months since the opening. These have ranged from music recitals and youth theatre to exhibitions, readings and general community meetings, including the Diocesan Council of the Church of Ireland.
It has been stated that the new HQ is indeed an apt metaphor for the all of Council’s work. It is accessible to all, it has served to raise awareness of an important aspect of our national heritage, it demonstrates alternative and multi functional use for heritage properties and is an example of best practice in conservation management. Very importantly the total cost of the conservation and restoration work of circa €6m is approximately €250k under budget. The completed work, together with the planned and regular maintenance of the property, will ensure this element of our heritage remains accessible to, and available for the enjoyment of many generations to come. This new Headquarters represents a very real and tangible output for all to enjoy.
Raising Awareness – to grow positive public attitudes towards heritage
The Heritage in Schools Programme, Heritage Week and the distribution of Heritage Outlook and the ever popular e-zine continue as major planks in the Council’s drive to grow positive public attitudes towards heritage. For an investment of less than €10 per child over 30,000 primary children benefited form the Heritage in Schools Programme in 2008. The programme is carried out in partnership with the Irish National Teachers Organisation. Heritage Council funding of €250k supported a panel of 152 experts to carry out 1100 visits.
Heritage Week continues its growth and reach. Since taking responsibility for the co-ordination of heritage week in 2005 (when less than 500 events were organised), what is fast becoming an August Heritage Festival now has 1032 events registered on the web site. The printed programme for the week generates substantial advertising income, a source of revenue also under consideration for the highly successful Heritage Outlook. Whilst the input for Heritage Week is approximately €300k and Council’s overall investment in PR stands at €60K the value of the coverage for Heritage Week alone during 2008 is independently estimated to be in excess of €2m
Heritage Research and Surveys – to provide science based information and data
Research and survey work received a major boost in 2009 with the development of the INSTAR2 programme for archaeological research. This programme arose from an earlier proposal by Council to the Minister on the merit of establishing a programme requiring collaboration and partnership between sectoral interests as a pre-requisite to the award of funding. Council also continued to support the research undertaken by the Discovery Programme Limited and is in the process of evaluating research it has instigated on climate change, high nature value farming, forestry policy, habitat mapping and landscape character assessment. It is anticipated that this work will contribute to formal policy proposals to the Minister on these subject areas later in 2009.
Council has also initiated a programme through which it is gathering data from all of its stakeholders and partners on the broader impact and added value that derives to them from Council’s support. This data will assist Council in articulating as clearly as possible the true value of its programme to the stated Government objective of creating a “knowledge economy”.
Council also provided ongoing critical support to several national research programmes such as the five year programme for the Winter and Breeding Birds Atlas, the Irish Scheme for Cetacean Observation and Public Education (ISCOPE), and the development of an all-Ireland non marine molluscan database, which will facilitate the undertaking of a Red List assessment
Evidence Based Advice – to secure sustainable management of the national heritage
The promotion of exiting Heritage Council policy remains the focus of output on this target. The establishment of the National Biodiversity Data Centre is an example of where the promotion of policy can result ultimately in the creation of a vital part of heritage infrastructure. As a satellite of Council with a Chairman and Management Board appointed by Council and operating to a clear contract between both parties, the Centre represents all that is positive in terms of the flexible and new way in which Government requires public services to be delivered. It is also a very positive example of a Public Private Partnership as a private company, Compass Informatics, operates the Centre.
Similarly the museum sector now benefits from earlier policy proposals that led to the establishment of the Museums Standard Programme of Ireland. In 2008 the following received Accreditation and Interim Accreditation under the Programme.
- Monaghan County Museum (Full Accreditation)
- Butler Gallery, Kilkenny (Full Accreditation)
- Músaem Chorca Duibhne (Interim Accreditation)
Council’s landscape policy has recently been further developed through a series of initiatives and pilot projects such as the potential designation of a Landscape Conservation Area within the Tara Skryn Valley and the potential for a Landscape Charter for the Burren. Both of these initiatives are designed to inform the government’s development of a National Landscape Strategy. The significance of this work will be expanded in the second part of this paper
Development of Heritage Infrastructure – to ensure emerging plans take heritage in to account
Council continues to invest heavily in this area of activity. Council’s input of circa €8m can be measured against a number of very significant outputs. Some examples include the fact that investments of only €16k in the Youghal Walled Towns Day in August 2008 generated a net benefit to the local economy of €480k a multiple factor of 30. Similar examples are also evident elsewhere from across the 23 members in the network.
Council has also been active in articulating how it contributes through its programmes to broader economic objectives. For example, whilst Council itself has retained its core staff at 15 the networks and infrastructure it has specifically put in place through a variety of innovative mechanisms now employ a minimum of 58 people. In turn these satellites estimate that they have created and are supporting a further 124 skilled jobs in either a contract or consultancy capacity.
The leverage provided by the infrastructure support funding provided by Council is amply illustrated through the development of the Ramparts Walk in County Louth. €150k of seed funding through the Heritage Officer Programme resulted in the output of a €1m top class walkway from Drogheda to the Meath County boundary, again emphasising accessibility to and enjoyment of the national heritage.
To assist Council in achieving its objectives in this area of activity a significant new partnership has been developed with the Department of Agriculture to provide funding for significant farm buildings on farms that are part of the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS 4). Some 42 buildings have now received support as part of the output from this programme with €986,996.52 being allocated to applications. The grants offered vary between a minimum of €5,000 and maximum of €25,000 and they make a significant contribution to the conservation of our vernacular architecture and to the management of the rural landscape. Funding for this scheme is in place until 2013.
The Council’s Buildings at Risk Scheme continues its positive impact and Council received a boost to its capacity to support conservation of this aspect of our national heritage through the provision of additional funding in 2008 for Significant Places of Public Worship.
Best Practice – develop specific heritage training and development opportunities for all practitioners
In addition to the maintenance of its own Heritage Training and Development Programme, training and development opportunities were provided for a number of professions. The museum sector continues to benefit from the Museums Studies Course sponsored by the Heritage Council in partnership with the University of Ulster. In addition Internships within a number of the Cultural Institutions and participants in the Museums Standards Programme have been provided in 2008.
Planners and Landscape Architects have had detailed involvement in developing a continuous professional development (CPD) module in Landscape Character Assessment. It is intended that this module will be available for delivery in the autumn of 2009 and is a specific response to the need for such formal training as required by the specific measures included in the European Landscape Convention.
All in all the Council’s range of activities and sphere of influence continues to expand, an expansion that requires careful and considered management and direction and ongoing flexibility as to how Council does its business. 2009 will see further change and a much greater integration of Council’s natural and cultural heritage activities. These will include the rationalisation of the Council’s existing Grants Programmes from 9 down to 3, a focus on those aspects that concern, heritage policy, heritage research and heritage management, and maintenance of support for those important aspects of heritage infrastructure that Council has established.
It is in the context of this organisational integration and the government requirement that the public service works across organisational, professional, sectoral and geographical boundaries that Council’s ongoing commitment to Ireland’s landscapes can most easily be understood.
PART TWO – A COMMITMENT TO IRELAND’S LANDSCAPES
The Heritage Act (1995) under which the Heritage Council is established includes landscape as part of the definition of our national heritage. The inclusion of landscape in that definition was to act as a catalyst for the Heritage Council to host a conference in 1999 entitled Towards Policies for Ireland’s Landscape. A major outcome of that conference was the 2002 Policy Proposal on Ireland’s Landscape presented to the Minister of Environment. This policy proposal played a major role in securing Ireland’s early signature and ratification of the European Landscape Convention, which, as we all know, having secured ratification by the requisite number of Countries came in to force in 2004.
Ten years on Council has committed again to hosting a major international landscape conference (www.heritagecouncil.ie for details) to review what has happened in the intervening years but more importantly to see how best to put in place the necessary action to effect the best conservation, planning and management of our urban, peri-urban and rural landscapes.
The conference will be developed in the context of the specific and general measures contained in the European Landscape Convention and the commitment contained in the 2007 Programme for Government to Develop a National Landscape Strategy
A Heritage Council View
Council has expressed the view over a number of years that in comparison to all its European neighbours, and in particular those that are members of the Council of Europe and the European Union, Ireland has poorly developed legislation and management structures with which to conserve, manage and plan for its landscapes.
Even in terms of its National Parks, which for the most part across Europe and the World are considered as the pinnacle of protected areas and protected landscapes with considerable legislative and resource weight placed behind them, these are not legislated for in Ireland. The National Parks that do exist including Killarney, the Burren, Wicklow, Glenveagh, Ballycroy and Connemara are national parks because they are in state ownership and have been acquired and developed in that manner.
Similarly it is Council’s view that the Irish Planning legislation contains little effective provision for the conservation and management of the Irish landscape. Whilst planning legislation has since the 2000 Act and in the recent 2009 Planning Bill sought to address weaknesses in strategic planning provision and the requirements necessary for effective sustainable development, the legislation still contains no definition of “landscape”.
When decisions are made according to the planning acts and other sectoral legislation, the decision making process and the application of legislation is strongly sectoralised. Subsets of the landscape are handled without any overall co-ordination. Forests, water, agriculture and houses for example can be treated as isolated objects. Conflicts of interest often arise in the interface and legislation emphasises a problematic division between urban and rural areas.
The European Landscape Convention of course seeks to identify (for those Countries that have ratified the convention) specific and general measures to resolve the above issues. The 2009 Landscape Conference is specifically designed to allow the Heritage Council, in its role as an advisory body to the Irish Government, to propose ways in which the issues can be resolved. Council itself has expressed the view that the ultimate manner to proceed is to for Ireland to have a Landscape Ireland Act.
Council sees such legislation as having the capacity to knit together all the sectoral interests. It will allow a fully integrated landscape approach to be developed, one that provides sectoral benefits with structures to back up and deliver an agreed and fully costed set of objectives
Landscape Conference 2009
There is now a political will, as contained in the Programme for Government, to develop a national landscape strategy. The 2009 Tullamore Landscape Conference will inform that strategy and whilst Council may have a view that the ultimate out come is to secure new legislation, Council is pragmatic enough in its approach to realise that existing legislation needs to be tested to the full to ascertain its capacity to deliver and that sectoral interests need to be invited to think of their own activities in landscape terms.
The conference therefore is looking at:
International best practice with examples from Europe, and North America
Irish approaches to landscape from agencies dealing with Agriculture, Tourism, Infrastructure, Environmental Protection, Forestry, Water
Community Landscape Initiatives, with each day having three short presentations on examples of community involvement in the landscape
The partnership approach in a session sponsored by Natural England
The Political Approach with a final day presentation from Minister of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government
It would have been easy for Council to showcase its own work and support of the landscape approach through presentations at the conference but its design specifically excludes that style of conference. Instead Council will highlight its work on landscape based initiatives that help meet the requirements of the European Landscape Convention through publication of a series of information leaflets including the following;
Evaluation of Landscape Character Assessment and Historic Landscape Characterisation in Ireland
Water Corridor Studies
The Village Design Programme
Traditional Farm Buildings
Professional Training Module on Landscape Character Assessment
In addition, publication of a series of articles that have appeared over a number of years in Heritage Outlook (Council’s biannual magazine) will also highlight Council’s work in this area. For the purposes of this paper I will highlight two current initiatives. These are
Testing Current Legisaltion
Development of a voluntary Landscape Charter
Testing Current Legisaltion
There is provision in the current legislation (section 204 of the Planning Act 2000) for local authorities to designate a Landscape Conservation Area. The provisions of the section have never been used. Not being one to shirk its responsibility, the Heritage Council proposed to the Minister of Environment Heritage and Local Government at he height of the controversy surrounding the running of the M3 Motorway through the Tara /Skryne Valley that a Landscape Conservation Area should be designated. This advice pointed out that (whether or not the motorway went ahead) the Tara Landscape would benefit from such a designation, and it could test whether landscape conservation and management objectives could be delivered through the planning legislation.
Use of section 204 was after all the strongest available form of landscape protection available, particularly when coupled to existing policies contained in the Meath County Development Plan.
The motorway is now forging ahead and the Minister, having accepted the Heritage Council’s advice is now supporting a partnership between his Department, Meath County Council and the Heritage Council to secure the designation of a LCA under section 204 of the Planning Act. Far from being a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted this designation will test whether the planning legislation in protecting the character of this special landscape can deliver an agreed package of management and conservation measures that will benefit all stakeholders.
Development of a Voluntary Landscape Charter
The model that provides for a reviewable charter to be put in place for French Regional Parks has long been enshrined in French legislation. The Charter, to which all stakeholders in the Park subscribe, sets out clear objectives against which the success of the Park can be measured. It is reviewed on a 5-10 year basis and failure to reach those objectives can result in the loss of Regional Park status.
No such legislation currently exists in Ireland. However the Heritage Council has been working with stakeholders in County Clare to see whether a voluntary charter could be put in place for the Burren Landscape. Stakeholders currently involved include local landowners and farmers, tourism interests, environmental ngos and the local authority
Such a Charter would be an agreement between the signatories as to how to manage, conserve and plan the sustainable development of the Burren Landscape for all who live in, work in and visit that landscape. It is a project concerned with securing co-ordination of the protection, development and use of the area for a 5 year period ( this could be longer. Most international examples are for 10-12 years)
The Charter would recognise that the Burren is a rich natural landscape and a rich cultural landscape and would acknowledge the primacy of landowners, agencies and individuals, their rights and responsibilities. Yet in its very preparation it would recognises the wish of all parties to work in partnership to secure a more co-operative and productive and efficient future for the Burren landscape and its people. It will recognise the work of all parties in the past and, in building on the best elements of that work, commits the parties to providing a more secure and formal structure for all in the future. This structure will be designed to deliver the agreed action plan and precise financial plan
The clear objectives the Charter sets will be agreed between the parties for an initial period of 5 years. During the penultimate year, and at regular intervals during the Charter period, these objectives and the progress towards their implementation will be reviewed. If progress has been made at the end of the Charter period each of the parties agrees to consider development of a new charter and to consider involving other parties in its development and actions.
The Heritage Council sees all of its activities as having implications for the Irish landscape, whether urban, peri urban or rural. It sees the Irish landscape as being where people live, work and play whether as residents, citizens or visitors.
It sees the manner in which it operates as a reflection of the connections that exist within our natural and cultural landscapes. It seeks to foster in all its activities a level of integration and interdependence that highlight these connections.
Council recognises that in the current Irish context changes are needed to address shortcomings in our capacity to deliver long-term, sustainable management and conservation of our landscapes.
It remains committed to not only highlighting these weaknesses but more importantly seeking to remove them through it own example and actions.