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Informing & empowering New Forest residents and visitors

'New Forest National Park's Draft Landscape Character Assessments
- An Example of Manipulating Conservation Responsibilities to Perpetuate a Myth'
by Chris M

While a section like that defining Conservation Designations would not be disputed there are many criticisms to be levelled at the rest.  The following comments summarise my main objections to the New Forest National Park Authority’s cynical philosophy of excluding the conservation value of literally anything that post-dates the medieval or possibly parliamentary period.

The cynical philosophy is established, fundamentally, through the identification of historically-based ‘Character Types’, against which everything is assessed, yet, in terms of trends influencing concern, such as climate change, which will involve features such as topography, soil type, etc., this has no relevance.

In the Character Assessments these pre-industrial periods are imbued with idealist, romantic qualities that are the stuff of a fictional world that was, in fact, often typified by disease, bread-line living, extreme class distinctions and dissension.  It was, in short, a very imperfect world.  Yet, through the philosophy of the draft consultation documents, we are expected to accept that:

 All fields were small, constituted part of commoners’ small-holdings, which typically featured white-washed or red brick thatched cottages, and the fields were bounded by continuous hedging dotted with nothing but oaks.  Everything was exceptionally well managed.

 Anything – and that is definitely anything – that does not coincide with this image (or that of a parkland estate) is to be regarded as ‘incongruous’, ‘unsympathetic’, with the clear inference that people inhabiting properties and/or using land in the related areas – and that is most of the LCAs – deserve to be ostracized. - This contention is supported by 20Year Visions that deliberately exclude anyone who is not a commoner.   

 Landowners who have amalgamated fields, removing some hedgerows and trees, in order to enhance arable or pastoral production, are to be reviled; while – despite the fact that equines would have been used extensively during the historical periods defining the perfect standards idolised – those who ride equines recreationally, or provide land for them, are to be condemned.  The sneering contempt with which such people are to be regarded is tangible.  This is clearly illustrated by a variety of statements, including calling areas grazed ‘pony paddocks’ (even, ‘large-scale pony paddocks’, which is a grammatical error as well as a factual one) and electric fencing tape is referred to as ‘pony tape’

In short, the draft Landscape Character Assessments tend to masquerade as genuine planning documents that can be used in the formation of others.  Under the cloak of some genuine ‘expert’ statements the Assessments have been hijacked by those with personal, subjective grievances who have chosen to use generalised over-prescription to idealise the past to vilify characteristics that actually show inevitable historical social and economic changes, and identify the distinctiveness of the various landscapes.

It is noted that there is little ‘characteristic elaboration’ on the larger villages such as Lyndhurst or Brockenhurst, yet the European Landscape Convention stresses the usefulness of assessing all landscapes. – This relative omission can probably be explained by recalling the New Forest National Park’s cynical obsession with targeting most of those inhabiting the rural areas, as indicated above.

It should also be noted that the New Forest National Park Authority, despite being aware of the guidelines governing public consultation, has chosen to adopt a high-handed approach by completing the Assessments without facilitating this, and has also deliberately impeded the process by issuing, for additional public consultation, its draft Landscape Action Plan.  These are regarded as yet more cynical tactics.

All this supports the contention that, at least in connection with planning, this National Park Authority is quite prepared to act unethically and, if possible, little public involvement.  The Authority is reminded of the Aarhus Convention, which states:

‘Decision-makers can take advantage from people’s knowledge and expertise;  this contribution is a strong opportunity to improve the quality of the environmental decisions, outcomes and to guarantee procedural legitimacy.’

This needs to be accepted, while much of the content of the draft Landscape Character Assessments, does not!

Chris M, New Forest, August 2013