Rural landscape or landscape? Dennis Scott Comments

In the September online issue of Landscape Architecture Aotearoa we asked two of New Zealand’s most experienced landscape planning practitioners to answer some questions on rural character that were vexing us. Since then the issue of landscape character and the resilience and regeneration of our landscapes has been increasingly in the focus of politicians, lawyers, land users and practitioners and indeed the NZILA is currently working with others on revising the 2010 NZILA guidelines for landscape assessment. Dennis Scott is the third of the practitioners we approached and we asked him to comment on the questions we asked initially and the responses we received.

Dennis thought there was now a more important event on the horizon - the proposed MFE Code of Practice for Landscape (‘COP for L’). He has therefore turned his mind to an ‘opinion piece’ on that important project. Dennis is a senior figure in the institute, an experienced landscape practitioner, a past president, past adjunct professor for the UNITEC BLA program who specialised in Landscape Planning, Assessment and Management and an ardent proponent of Catchment Management and associated integrated spatial and bio-geographic approaches to landscape.

THIS BRIEF STATEMENT, WHILE INTENDED AS A response to the NZILA Spring edition of ‘Landscape Architecture Aotearoa’ Rural Character debate article, in my opinion, promotes some early stimulation around dialogue associated with a much greater and more important event that is about to unfold; the proposed MFE Code of Practice for Landscape (‘COP for L’).

In essence and fundamentally, I promote:

  • Landscape character as represented and perceived as a continuum.

  • Landscape as the interaction of nature and culture.
  • Landscape as an outcome that inherently contributes to the quality of people’s lives.
  • Landscape planning as a process that demands comprehensive systematic and geographic approaches that address the proactive management of all areas, not just the identification and preservation of exceptional (outstanding) areas.

These are the simple, direct and primary matters that will underpin the discussion(s) and debate(s) that will now emerge as the proposed MFE COP for L project evolves.

The recent ‘rural character debate’ represents positive and specific thoughts about an important subject.

However, in a detailed sense and specifically, the Rural Character debate represents a ‘sideshow’ to the main event.

I take some critical passages from the NZILA email releases of 22.11.16 and 01.12.16 in relation to the MFE COP for L project as follows:

Open Workshops

This project is an exciting one for NZILA. Although wholly driven and largely paid for by MfE, it is our opportunity to shape the landscape legislation of the future, and also come together as a profession to assist in the management of landscape across the country.

It is a project that will build on the work undertaken in 2011 (the NZILA Best Practice Guide), however, it will be a project where we will have to put some of our differences aside and work together to produce a good outcome. It is important that we unite, as the alternative will be that MfE (and the Minister) pursue this without our input.” And:

Project Scope

The objective of the project, very broadly, is to develop detailed guidance for the assessment of landscape; the identification of outstanding natural landscapes and features; and the assessment of landscape and visual effects. The deliverable will be a 

written document that details appropriate methodology, definitions and approaches to such assessment, providing guidance to landscape architects, planners and decision makers. Potentially this document will become the basis of an NPS or NES on Landscape, although this is not currently within the scope. A broader description of the scope, and the problem brief, will be included in the RFQ outlined below.”

The response to the COP for L project needs to be considered carefully. There are a bunch of fundamental reasons for this position:

  1. We are well into the 2nd/3rd generation Regional/District Plan evolutions – nationwide. That means that the RMA s6(a) and 6(b) conundrum may be able to be addressed in the context of a significant range of more specific local program scenarios going forward. I say this because (like it or not) NZILA Landscape Planning practitioners have been captured and constrained in commentary and participation within these limited provisions of the RMA.
  2. The significant coastal cousins, within the NZCPS - Policy 13 and 15 are constrained within the same position as the above.
  3. Unsurprisingly, NZCPS Policy 14 remains a forgotten cousin, and is yet to have any ‘real grunty’ formal support – nationwide. Why is that? This is a serious missed opportunity for the profession – NZILA. NZCPS Policy 14, unlike NZCPS Policy 13 and 15 is not hooked up to any RMA s6 mandates – that’s why!
  4. Many of us know, the Regional/District ONC/ HNC/ONL/ONF operative realities are what they are – reference point 3 above.
  5. Also ‘King Salmon’ realities continue to lurk. This is a real problem, particularly for the Aquaculture industry. This transposes to negative decision making and difficult ‘freedom’ realities for other landscape users – Primary Industries, etc.
  6. Therefore, in my opinion, s6(a) and 6(b) need to be part of the fundamental RMA reform package. Both of these clauses need serious ‘wordsmith’ and meaning/interpretation re-drafting and reform.
  7. In this sense at s6(a) ‘nature’ and the protection of it needs to be expanded beyond the ‘coastal environment’ limitation to include all ‘environments’.
  8. Then, as a follow up, remove the word ‘natural’ from s6(b) and include ‘all landscapes and features’. Think about that! And, as we go, include, enhance ment as a critical verb, woven into the ‘avoiding, remedying and mitigating’ mantra of the RMA.
  9. Critically, we as a profession have lost traction in the most important and fundamental primary matters and issues of the RMA – the Part 2 s(5) – Purpose and Principles matters. We need to regain our ‘mojo’ here!
  10. Landscape Planning as an activity/process does not equal and/or is not equivalent to, but must take preference to and dominate Landscape Assessment as an activity/process; even in RMA terms. It is essential these ‘high level’ issues/matters be opened for discussion and debate amongst a wide range of practitioners through the MFE COP for L Project.

The RMA may be the one avenue for the NZILA to contribute to New Zealand and the world.

We also need to consider the COP for L project within the context of current ‘dizzy’ exponential accelerating global phenomena and realities (global market connectivity, global and local population increase, seriously out-there technological advancements and obvious global climate change).

These are now intersecting at a frightening pace at all temporal and spatial levels. This will significantly affect the functioning of our planet but, more critically, ALOE +US (“all life on earth plus us” - humans/homo sapiens), our communities, the natural phenomena and our associated land and land-use/LANDSCAPE realities.

We – NZILA, the Landscape Planning profession – now need to seriously think beyond the limited templates of the past 20 year RMA decision-making process. We need to finally and justifiably re-assess and champion our own incredible mark on the land/landscape and its corresponding community character.

The COP for L project is the first Government sponsored opportunity since Sir Roger Douglas dismantled the Ministry of and Works Development department and destroyed the excellent and critical National Town and Country Planning Act strategic and policy framework of integrated management. It was, in hindsight, replaced with an RMA in 1991 that has since unfortunately been systematically and gradually subverted by corporate thinking, commercialism and rampant bureaucracy.

In real terms, here is the opportunity to move beyond the classic ‘confused’ state of WESI and his/her ilk and reconsider and re-new a Landscape Planning, Assessment and Management future based on our core skill - DESIGN – as applied to the landscape planning continuum.


Dennis Scott
Registered Landscape Architect, FNZILA

Rural, OpinionNZILA