Power and motion

Power and motion

When a government announces plans for large-scale infrastructure projects, it’s either a symptom of a robust economy with its sights fixed on the stratosphere (think Brazil) or a blood transfusion for ailing fiscal growth.

The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement last November, in which he gave the go-ahead for £5bn of capital infrastructure projects over the next three years, was intended as a shot in the arm, and was largely welcomed by a cash-strapped country. Whether or not Britain actually needs big infrastructure, or just jobs, is a question that will be thrashed out on the tables at public consultation as these projects come to fruition.

High Speed 2 (HS2) is a good example. It has been simultaneously heralded as the most significant infrastructure project since the building of the motorways and derided as £32bn better spent elsewhere. The first phase of the scheme, which will connect London to Birmingham, has provoked outcry from communities along the route, none more vocal than where it will carve its way through the Chilterns AONB, but increasingly from campaign groups near the start of the route in north London. But HS2 will happen; the question now is how?

In A Modern Utopia, HG Wells says: “There is nothing in machinery, there is nothing in embankments and railways and iron bridges and engineering devices to oblige them to be ugly. Ugliness is the measure of imperfection.” How might HS2 be conceived as a thing of beauty that enhances the landscape, rather than detracts from it, for those who thrive in it and those who pass through it? We put this challenge to five Landscape Institute award-winning students, and there visions are published in a special section in this issue.

Power and motion, and their relationship with the landscape, occupy almost every page of this edition as we try to assess how far we’ve come since Sylvia Crowe described infrastructure in 1958 as that “third element in the landscape, one without history or tradition”. Kate Pinnock rereads Crowe’s seminal work, The Landscape of Power, only to find it still strangely prescient some 50 years on.

Elsewhere, we consider how the reincarnation of the Infrastructure Planning Committee and the dismantling of the planning system will deliver the government’s ambitious goals as set out in the National Infrastructure Plan. And we ask what role the landscape profession can play in brokering the plan’s public acceptance.

What will the 21st century say about the relationship between big infrastructure and landscape years from now? This issue marks the beginning of the Landscape Institute Policy Committee’s work on this subject, to be revisited throughout the year.

George Bull, editor, Landscape

Also in this issue:

  • Author and crtic Tim Richardson chooses five international practices at the vanguard of landscape design
  • Five award-winning landscape students offer visions for HS2 that make a virtue of rail infrastructure
  • Historian Elain Harwood explores what lies beneath the Barbican
  • See the winner, runner up and shortlisted projects from the Wood Wharf student design competition

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