Kathryn Moore

Kathryn Moore

Professor Kathryn Moore, Professor of Landscape Architecture at Birmingham City University

It is time to have a new view of landscape. Variously championed and underestimated – the real worth of our landscape continues to be a contentious and emotive issue. It seems to belong to all of us, but actually to no one. Fragmented into different elements, the responsibility of numerous agencies, NGOs and departments, the landscape’s potency, complexity and value is all too often overlooked within the development process.

But there is now a sea change in town and country planning where the landscape is determined as the lead driver, an important economic and social catalyst that is firmly on the mainstream political agenda. What we are proposing in HS2 Landscape Vision (HS2LV) – a project I am leading and supported by local civic and business leaders – is to remodel the new, highly contentious high-speed train line between London and Birmingham into an iconic city-to-city, national landscape infrastructure project that will play a significant role in shaping the UK’s response to major environmental challenges.  Ultimately, the aim is to transform a linear, engineering project into an artistic and scientific national treasure by creating a myriad of local, regional and national landscape experiences.

Expanding the conceptual agenda and territorial scope of the engineering project, the proposal places the landscape at the core of HS2 and uses it as a catalyst for the economic, physical and ecological transformation of communities impacted by the route from London, through the heart of England to the City of Birmingham and beyond.  A pilot for the future, the study aims to put the region at the forefront of sustainable spatial development, conservation and urban regeneration – and potential benefits include:

  • opportunities for entrepreneurship with new outlets for regional produce, fishing, tourism, and other outdoor activities associated with ecological tourism to bring additional long-term benefits
  • exploiting views to and from the railway, using bridges, vantage points and viewing platforms
  • technical solutions to recreate long lost agricultural landscapes and promote a sustainable return to the land
  • development of both traditional and new skills
  • creation of new orchards, glades, pools, canals, woodlands, copses, forests and sustainable energy generation
  • creating long distance walkways, local footpaths, cycle paths, bridal ways, increasing access and mobility
  • addressing issues of water shortage, flooding and purification
  • improved telecommunications and metrological monitoring.

This is thererfore not just about trains going faster or creating a singular engineering project. We’ve had enough of those – they quite literally litter our towns and cities.  This is a real opportunity to create an enduring legacy for the region and the UK as a whole.  By using the landscape as a key component in HS2’s development, it can be seen as a base layer against which decisions about all future development need to be made. This could mean the re-imagining of an immense valley system – focusing on Tame Valley and Blythe Valley, the green heart of the Birmingham region – largely unloved and unnoticed, as a productive and resilient heart of the region.

By adopting a holistic, inclusive approach to the overall planning of HS2, it is possible to engage communities in the project, promoting social cohesion and economic development incorporating bio-diversity, culture, ecology spatial quality and identity. Since large parts of the area are blighted by 20th century infrastructure, it is hugely important to drive home the message that HS2 will not necessarily be another blot on the landscape – if we learn some hard lessons from history, from past mistakes, we’re much less liable to repeat them, after all, we have over 200 years of industrial despoliation to put right. Essentially, HS2LV is about re-establishing a symbiotic relationship between the city and its landscape.  Bringing radical change to the identity of the region. People are already seeing the city in a different way.

Significantly, HS2LV has found tremendous support and interest locally, nationally and internationally, politicians and key stakeholders, are beginning to recognise the potential of the landscape to mediate between administrative, technical, social and cultural forces, realising there is a more productive and effective way to investigate, programme and deliver major infrastructure projects. The proposal is currently making its way to the Secretary of State for Transport to gain support for the next stage, which is to build the economic, social and cultural argument, secure specialist expertise from partners in the UK and Europe, and establish how to integrate matters of governance, health, finance and education.

Birmingham has always had an identity problem. It is time to reinvent the region.

Professor Kathryn Moore, an international expert in landscape architecture and masterplanning from Birmingham City University, is leading a radical project – HS2 Landscape Vision – which potentially offers a very different vision for High Speed 2 in the West Midlands. Professor Moore’s work has support from key stakeholders among local civic, transport and business leaders – and is set to be shared with national policy-makers.

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Kathryn Moore

Kathryn Moore

Professor of Landscape Architecture at Birmingham City University