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Cultivating the NWE garden, together

Priority 41. Introduction

Botanical gardens, nature reserves, country estates, walled herb gardens, rockeries, Alpine nurseries, vegetable patches, sculpture parks, community allotments…..No man is an island and no garden is either. Though gardens, parks, forests and conservation areas across the NWE may have no immediate territorial link there is certain coherence to the issues they face: preservation, conservation, identity, sustainable development and economic function.
 Just as natural phenomena such as continental shifts have dictated land formations, human development has marked the landscape through farming, industrialization and war. Urbanization and economic expansion are placing increasing pressure on open spaces, hence the need for spatial planning to tackle the tension between land-use for economic development versus social recreation. As working hours diminish for many of the 171 million citizens of the NWE, so the leisure industry prospers. Ensuring increased accessibility to open spaces while promoting sustainable tourism is ever more vital. From the highlands peaks to wetland flats, medieval city centres and fortifications, pressures are placed upon rural and open spaces. Transnational cooperation can, however, help reinforce identity through a celebration of the natural and cultural heritage.
 On this note, the following article introduces 14 projects in Priority 4, and 4 projects in Priority 1, most of which were given the green light at the Fourth Programme Steering Committee in November 2003.

2. Natural heritage (rocks, earth, trees)

Rolling stones

The geological heritage of NWE being varied and complex, landscape formation is intrinsically linked with the natural and cultural heritage, just as patterns of settlement and social and economic development have emerged in response to the distribution of the continent's geological resources. The partners of the Geoparks (1) project recognise the close relationship between human evolution in north-west Europe and the geological environment throughout the Stone, Bronze and Iron ages to the industrial revolution of the 19th century into the silicon-based and bio-tech economy of the early 21st century. The project seeks to improve awareness with governmental and public audiences of the significance of the geological heritage as a sustainable, cultural and economic resource.
As part of the UNESCO-endorsed European Geoparks Network - established in 2000, its aims have been incorporated as a key development programme in the draft Council of Europe declaration on geodiversity (scheduled for ratification in early 2004) - three partners will carry out actions related to education and tourism focusing in part on the geological processes of volcanism and water-action et Vulkaneifel (Germany), the Copper Coast (Republic of Ireland) and Marble Arch Caves (Northern Ireland).

Seeing (saving) the wood for the trees

Of course, it's not just about celebrating rock formations, but preserving non-renewable natural resources. Deforestation may not have occurred quite as rapidly in NWE as the Amazon basin, but it is hard to believe that much of north-west Europe was once covered with dense forest and woodland. Through economic development, intensive farming and industrialisation, wood resources have been slowly depleted, hence the need to identify strategies for sustainable forest management are thus essential. For example, two of the largest state-owned woodland sites in the NWE, the New Forest (Hampshire, UK) and Fontainebleau Forest (outside Paris), face considerable pressure to provide outdoor leisure amenities to local communities and visitors. The sites were designated as 'Natura 2000 sites' (under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives).
ProHolz-ProBois (2), brings together 13 forest-related bodies from Belgium, Germany, France and Luxemburg to address the status of transnational woodland areas. The partnership will support sustainable forest management through environmental protection, the development of tourism and sustainable housing, but also via social and recreational issues that could also help reinforce the competitive position of Saar-Sor-Lux forests vis-à-vis the wood and timber industry. Through the development of a transnational forest-wood network it will establish a certification of forests at the level of public and private forest owners, introduce a control procedure at the level of foresters and sawmills, promote imporoved forest management, and re-evaluate the use of wood in the construction industry by means of socio-economic and tourist actions along a 'Route du Bois'.

Treating timber

Also tackling these threats, PROGRESS (3) brings together UK's Forestry Commission, the French Office National des Fôrets, as well as a research institute, countryside agency and tourism bodies to reconcile the high level of demand for woodland recreation with wildlife conservation and recreation at sensitive sites, and to integrate their recreation strategies within the wider regional planning framework. PROGRESS Through cross-sectoral co-operation, the project aims to generate sustainable solutions to the issues of ecology, communication, and development. Field surveys will be undertaken to show how different visitor patterns affect the sustainability of wildlife populations and vegetation, a volunteer programme for forest rangers will be set up, and activities will be aimed at maximising local community involvement in sustainable management. Recreation plans will be produced via innovative data modelling system and through widespread consultation with stakeholders. In order to promote alternative recreation and re-direct users away from 'sensitive' zones, a range of small investments in networks of forest trails and access point changes will be carried out.
Likewise the SOS II (4) project is addressing forest protection and park management in its quest consider the best way to promote landscape identity for sustainable open spaces. It acknowledges the importance of ensuring the quality of historical assets and stabilising the urban-rural relationship. Over three years 16 partners are embarking upon several geographic constellations of investments across the NWE. In short, rather than conceiving of open space as the 'void' in between strings of cities, in the longer term, the project is encouraging new transnational perspectives on the positioning and function of rural areas in territorial planning.
Remains of the day
While elements of archaeology are dug over in SOS, the Planarch II (5) project builds on IIC experience, to consecrate itself entirely to furthering the protection and enhancement of archaeological heritage which, in the words of the Valetta Convention , is a “source of European collective memory”. Acknowledging that once the British Isles were physically attached to mainland Europe, and were part of the Roman Empire, the project promotes the integration of archaeology in spatial planning, a discipline in which complex patterns of cultural singularity matter, but for which the boundaries of modern political geography and irrelevant.
One way to combat the strain on the historic environment is through legislative frameworks and instruments to ensure the effective management of the historic environment. Building metro systems in Athens and Rome was obviously going to be a lengthy stop-and-start process, but what about the planning and construction of major infrastructure projects in east London and Kent, such as the Thames Gateway. Do planners really acknowledge the true value of archaeological resources in an Environmental Impact Assessment? In Planarch II, three pilot actions across wetlands in Essex, Flanders and Kent, address the use of aerial photographs to weigh up the value of buried historical remains against development proposals (and their implied economic worth).  The partners recognise the need for common standards and methodologies for establishing heritage records which will be made more accessible to planners to reinforce the framework for balanced spatial planning.

3. Extracting  and exploiting resources (mines, manufacturing and industry)


Interreg IIIB projects are not only about celebrating the protection of resources - they also fête their exploitation, that is to say, their removal through felling, mining and quarrying, and the legacy of human endeavour at these sites. Referred to earlier on, Geoparks will conserve a 19th century copper mining complex, one of best surviving remnants of what was once the heart of Ireland's second largest, 19th Century copper mining districts and what is now the most distinct industrial heritage icon in the country. The conservation and presentation will serve as a monument to the life and times of the miners who toiled underground and provide an unrivalled opportunity to develop transnational and promote participation archaeological investigations and conservation work. The fully excavated site will be the most substantive example of its type anywhere in Ireland or Britain, thus providing a major educational resource for the NWE.

Getting into hot water

Other than sustainable tourism, another innovative way of reviving old mining areas in an economic and sustainable way extracting geothermal heat from water in flooded mines for space heating of homes, offices and other commercial real estate. Sustainable deployment of mine heat offers a unique opportunity to build upon the foundations of the European Community for Steel and Coal (ECSC). The main objective of Minewater (6) seeks to demonstrate that it is economically viable and environmentally sound to use geothermal energy available from hot (and cold) water generated in, and tapped from, abandoned coal mines, for district heating and cooling purposes. Using plugged shafts - geological structures from which solid fossil fuels were formally mined - and transforming them into 'energy centres', this innovative project seeks to use the water-filled underground cavities for sustainable energy.
The municipalities of Heerlen (NL) and Midlothian (UK) will disseminate this experience to other ex-mining communities to demonstrate that it is feasible to drill into and extract stored energy from the heated water in abandoned mines, to cost-effectively restore abandoned brown-field areas into attractive residential and commercial areas, whilst also saving on CO2 emissions, and to show that such an approach can bring social revitalisation to fractured ex-mining communities through environmental upgrading.

Oiling the cogs: old engines with new drive

The European Network of Industrial Heritage II (7) project partnership, first established under Interreg IIC, acknowledges that with structural change in Western Europe industrialization in traditional terms has lost importance. Many formerly industrial areas are suffering from decline and high structural unemployment, making it essential to promote virtual infrastructures, e-commerce and SMEs (there is still great potential for transnational projects under Measure 2.2).
The aim of the ERIH network is to secure the creative protection and promotion of our common industrial heritage as a means for economic growth - structural change as the keystone for regional development. A range of institutions charged with the protection and maintenance of industrial heritage sites, spatial development and tourism organisations, intend to establish a structure of anchor points (60 Industrial Heritage sites which meet certain common quality standards), transnational routes (linking the four partner countries together under Industrial heritage themes) and regional routes (linking industrial heritage to the local and regional level). Like the “Route der Industriekultur” in the Ruhrgebiet that has been a source of inspiration and provided new sources of income for formerly devastated areas, ERIH intends to establish itself as a European brand for best practice in industrial heritage.

Doing the front crawl

As for the CROSSCUT (8) project, open spaces and landscapes are also to be found along river banks. Restoring 'riverscapes' as regional arteries, not only for transport but for recreation - such as swimming and picnicking - is a key source of economic revitalisation.CROSSCUT Led by the Association of Local Authorities in the Ruhr District, and bringing on board 15 partners from Germany, the UK and Netherlands, the ARTERY (9) project intends to do just this. The partner regions of Mersey Basin, Ruhr District or Mannheim each represent declining industrial areas which suffer from social deprivation. Environmental enhancement will be encouraged through the regeneration of polluted areas, the testing the implementation of the EU Water & Habitat directives at local level, the pursuit of PPPs (Public and Private Partnerships) and a focus on public consultation and widening involvement of local communities in the decision-making process. The project also encourages vocational training, and the conversion of mining sites and windmills, for the greater social inclusion of disadvantaged groups.

4. Built and military heritage (the remnants of past conflicts)

Protection and defence

When we think of North-West Europe, many images are conjured up from the territory located in the BeNeLux area i.e. the architectural heritage and network of Flemish, Walloon and Dutch cities, particularly the fortified and medieval towns. Recognising that space has been 'eaten into' by expanding transport networks and urban sprawl, the project advocates firm action to tackle imbalances currently affecting environmental quality. SEPTENTRION (10) led by the Conseil Général du Nord (Lille), assembles an impressive 23 partners from Belgium, France and the Netherlands to draw on the legacy of the built heritage. Through a cluster of investments the partners will bring about a cohesive necklace of 'interpretation centres' across the Low Countries and offer an innovative, inter-regional vision for sustainable tourism, as a component of a wider spatial development and planning strategy.

Bolstering battlements

In the course of the 18th century, many cities' urban fabric deteriorated and ramparts were destroyed, in part due to improvements in firepower and ammunitions. Napoleon developed a defence strategy which involved the construction of defence lines far outside city boundaries as detached military posts. This tactic was subsequently adopted all over Northwest Europe in the course of the 19th century. Fortifications were designed to withstand bombs and shell-fire and to host large troops of soldiers. As such they became small settlements of their own, varying in size up to 35 hectares. While these fortifications were originally located at strategic sites at the fringes of densely populated areas, they have now often been consumed by city expansion. The forts themselves have often lost their military function and are 'hidden' or have poor accessibility.
Like SOS II which in part looks at disused military sites, Crossing the Lines (11) focuses on the protection and sustainable redevelopment of Napoleonic and post- Napoleonic defence lines in the NWE. The project will focus on restoration techniques (climate control and brick work) and the installation of sustainable energy systems. In the UK, two Martello towers will be developed into a multifunctional visitors centre, using arts as a means to communicate their historical value, while on the continent, two forts will be developed as a themed 'fortress inn' and a 'creative barracks' for low impact tourism.

5. Garden heritage (regional identity and the skills base)

Anchors and gateways

EGHN Castle Van DyckFrom Capability Brown's landscaping of rambling English country estates to the legacy of Le Nôtre at the Palace of Versailles, the garden heritage of the NWE region is rich and diverse, and a cultural asset in need of protection. Yet, the value and significance of these gardens may sometimes be overlooked by planners. With increasing mechanisation and changing trends there is the risk that traditional gardening skills will die out. Recognising the need for forward-planning to safeguard and celebrate 'garden identities' in north-west Europe, and to consider the role of gardens and landscape architecture within spatial planning, the German-led European Garden Heritage Network (EGHN) (12) project promotes gardens and parks as a cultural asset for regional development and as a common heritage feature.
The objective of EGHN is to consolidate resources and knowledge-sharing, develop joint best practice, implement joint measures, and create transferable models. Over 5-years the project will integrate the management and marketing of gardens within regional planning strategies and define transnational garden itineraries, based on the recognition of 'anchor' gardens which have a significant cultural and economic impact on the NWE landscape. Information will be harmonised through and actions developed in the fields of education, conservation and skills preservation.

Parcs sans frontières

Ensuring the preservation of coherent open spaces intended for recreation is also important but requires a vision, both regards function and facilities. Tackling the fragmentation of natural areas, Boundless Parks (13) involves 3 partner regions from Belgium, Netherlands and UK, addresses protected and densely populated areas as well as rural areas in transition. The aims are to steer recreational land use, build up knowledge in planning evaluation tools, implement innovative marketing strategies, and create a base for future projects. The project will create sustainable 'decentralised gateway' points (entrances to parks, visitor centres, zoning systems to manage visitor access, walking and cycle routes, site conversion) in four different locations to steer visitors away from high-demand areas. Transnational cooperation will also be encouraged through the establishment of schemes to train park rangers and improve visitor management, as well as develop corporate identity between the four parks.

Back to the future, back to nature

Similarly community fragmentation is one risk of unchecked urban development, with reduced access to open city spaces producing social exclusion. SAUL (14) thus address the 'socially-compatible development' of urban landscapes in metropolitan regions, as well as regional identity and learning in planning cultures and partnerships. SAUL The project, led by Groundwork UK seeks to establish a new planning culture, and develop a transnational process of learning.
One of the SAUL key actions or 'prototypes', entitled Back to the Future, addresses cultural heritage for landscape identity in the Rhein-Main, where landscape identity is based on reviving the remains of 19th century garden landscapes and architecture. This includes historical high-canopy fruit gardens, surrounded by hedges and situated around old farms and villages. Recognising that typical landscape elements have disappeared as a consequence of town expansion, modern agricultural tillage methods, and the simple neglect of elements undervalued by the general public, the partners hope that that visitors will be attracted to restored garden landscape and fruit gardens and become acquainted with ancient fruit species and unique archaeological features.

6. Urban open spaces (new planning to fill old holes)

ENCOURAGEOpen spaces are also to be found within modern city developments, not only rambling country estates. Encourage (15) represents five new towns, a school of architecture and research institutions and focuses in particular on the phenomena of business parks. The project will investigate ways to reinforce green infrastructures, reduce the ecological footprint and develop common approaches to urban planning and sustainable development issues.
The project will promote innovative environmental management practices through public/private partnerships between local authorities and firms located in new town business parks, and address cross-disciplinary themes in project management, awareness-raising and land-use development in business parks. One key aim is to engage staff and employees on the sites in local development issues, to demonstrate that sustainable forms of environmental action are reproducible and transferable - practices developed transnationally can contribute to social cohesion as well as to the demands of economic development and urban planning.

Who's the fairest of them all?

Of course, several projects in Priority 1 also look at open spaces in terms of how best to revitalise brownfield sites, empty or disused blots on urban landscape. REVIT (16) gathers 6 European cities with derelict, formerly industrial areas with a view to elaborating new management approaches for multi-functional site development, and testing common methodologies through a series of pilot investments. The project encourages a greater participatory dimension in regeneration processes to embrace communities within the planning process, and hopes to generate additional leverage effects by applying innovative financing techniques, public-private partnership models and transnational marketing concepts.
Likewise ReUrba II (17) is tackling the issues of urban embellishment, revitalisation and renewal in face of urban sprawl and its threat to rural areas. Underlining the need to cope with the emerging network economy, the project examines the relationship between housing needs and lifestyle patterns – i.e landscape quality has obvious implications for health and leisure activity, and thus sustainable communities. Pilot investments will focus on park landscaping in inner city areas to improve their attractiveness for residential purposes, as well as the 'recycling' of buildings - this includes the conversion of a smithery into an information and exhibition centre, a disused car repair hall into a space for SMEs, and a derelict church into a community art space and gallery.

The owl and the hedgehog

Open spaces in human places means urban wildlife, such as foxes, pheasants, deer and herons in suburban gardens. In many ways this represents a demand for recreation in peri-urban areas not just only by the human population. While there may be increasing demands for recreation in inner city and suburban areas - themselves often neither 'urban' nor open countryside – recreational development may itself be constrained by the very nature of these spaces, often contaminated or unsafe through past industrial use.
BERISP (18) seeks to develop methods for dealing with contamination in relation to spatial planning in an international context, by ensuring compatibility of risk assessment methodologies between countries, for a harmonised application at the appropriate trans-national scale. Traditionally the options for dealing with contamination are limited: either to change the definition of the land use function (loss of prime objectives of the initial planning process) or remediate the contamination (requires vast budgets and is often not economically feasible). Yet this limited set of options resulting from normal risk assessment methodologies is due to the limited input from other disciplines relevant in spatial processes - geographers, social or economical scientists, and urban planners. The projects inter-disciplinary approach will gauge all relevant stakeholders in the planning process, such as farmers, inhabitants, and local authorities to design of a decision support system for treating polluted land. This DSS will require focussing on the hedgehog and the owl - two species at the top of food chain which each, in their own way, represent a different strategy for exploiting habitats.

7. Conclusion

While in his quest for utopia a disillusioned Candide saw his optimism dry up, practitioners and project partners who have turned on the garden sprinklers have everything to work for. Transnational projects addressing culture, heritage, ecology and environment should all enable them to cultivate our collective garden together by reconciling pragmatic thinking and cooperative action. Thinking transnationally is clearly essential since neither social or economic gains through cooperation and integration can be maximised if confined to the 'little community'; the national garden is not an island, entire of itself.
Interreg IIIB is about creating added value through transnational cooperation to change the way we carry out investment activity but more fundamentally the entire way in which we consider the possible solutions to wider issues. As a critic on Voltaire writes, 'If we understand the garden is to be understood symbolically as well as literally, then its yield must be such as to affect not only the bodies but also the minds of men'. And so we continue to strive for cooperation to be the best, in the best of all possible worlds.

'Tout est pour le mieux dans les meilleur des mondes possibles'

Paul Stephenson, Project Developper, NWE JTS


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