GCV Green Network Partnership
Foreword by Max Hislop
Since the launch of our ‘Seeing the Bigger Picture’ Vision 5 years ago, the Partnership has achieved a great deal particularly with the Green Network now written in to the Scottish Government’s National Planning Framework 3.
Getting here however, hasn’t been easy. Earlier this year Nigel Hooper retired as Policy and Support Manager for East Dunbartonshire Council and as the Council’s representative on the GCV Green Network Partnership Board.
As a parting gift Nigel penned the following article ‘Looking Back’ on the lengthy gestation of the ‘Green Network’ concept and early days of the Partnership.
"Green….Network….Partnership" by Nigel Hooper
The Glasgow and Clyde Valley Green Network Partnership has existed for nearly eight years and it is a not insignificant achievement that during this time many aspects of Green Network thinking have become second nature to a wide professional community. It is even difficult to imagine how we would manage without the concept of green networks to guide many of our day to day planning and land management decisions.
It was not always obvious that this would necessarily be the outcome and it is instructive to reflect on how we have got to where we are today.
When I began my professional career as a trainee planner the words “green network… and … partnership” would probably have been met with bafflement.
My first encounter with what has come to be thought of as a “network” was when, as a rural community initiatives officer, I found it quite challenging getting four village amenity groups along the Lea Valley in Hertfordshire to liaise together and appreciate that together they could develop a far stronger vision than they could by fighting sporadic developments case by case. The result was a voluntary “project” to protect and improve the setting of a long distance route from Luton to Hertford, through some of the most attractive and threatened scenery in the London Greenbelt.
Later, when I moved to work with Strathclyde Regional Council, there was still a lot of “silo” thinking behind efforts to manage the green environment. Planning strategy within the Council had been focussed on urban regeneration and was only just starting to think about the need to actively manage the acres of neglected and underused land in the urban fringe. We encountered huge resistance when we began to pull together jealously guarded information on land ownership, access routes and wildlife sites and the idea of “partnership” was often totally alien.
The proliferation of countryside management and river valley projects that grew to surround the Clyde Valley Conurbation through the late 80s and early 90s though was testament to the increasing interest in managing our green places. The projects operated independently though and despite the strategic overview provided by the Regional Council, they were never really conceived as a network. This weakness may in part have contributed to the difficulties faced in the years to come. None of us had really appreciated the scale of the on-going financial commitment that was necessary to sustain these projects. When the local government map was redrawn in 1996 it soon became apparent that individual 'green projects' were not going to withstand the onslaught of budget cuts that plagued the late 1990s.
Several valiant efforts, led by SNH were made to develop partnership arrangements to salvage at least some of what had been achieved over the previous decade but always it was the need for long term financial commitments that proved to be the stumbling block for first one partner then another. In the passionate debates which took place around this time, the interests of local budgets and individual projects often crowded out the idea of a network.
It was only when a genuinely strategic level partnership emerged, involving the Forestry Commission (at this time emerging from a fairly seismic shift from the uplands to the lowlands and from timber to people), that a potentially sustainable model started to emerge. A main plank of the argument for the allocation of not inconsiderable financial resources involved was that above all the proposal was for a conurbation-wide Green Network Partnership, whose effectiveness would be far greater than the sum of its parts. The over- arching nature of the idea was well illustrated by the “amoeba” like conceptual representation of the strategic network (which still hasn’t been improved on today) and demonstrates that the network of green-spaces touches every community in the Clyde Valley.
Even then, the Partnership didn’t just spring into being; it took a lot of perseverance to get the terms of agreements in place and most importantly recruit exactly the right team to drive it forward. There have been occasional financial challenges but Max and the team have always managed to demonstrate what exceptional value a strategic, light touch partnership can deliver. After nearly four decades of involvement in this field it has finally become clear that we have got our understanding of the Green environment right, we grasp the importance of the network concept and have a genuine Partnership and the very longevity of the Glasgow and Clyde Valley Green Network Partnership gives great hope for the future.