Is there anything wrong with the Landscape Institute?

Dr David Hickie CMLI

This blog post follows a discussion at the LI Members’ Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) on 27th July 2o23. The discussion was about the organisational structure and charitable status of the Landscape Institute. David asks if they are part of the problem or part of the solution.

I voted for Brodie McAllister as our President. I listened and read Brodie’s manifesto for the 2021 election and the others. All had ideas for taking the LI forward. But I was most impressed by Brodie’s vision for the LI. It seemed to be a modernising agenda and aligned with where I thought the LI should be going. As we all know, members overwhelmingly voted for Brodie.

At the time, from my perspective, the LI appeared to be ‘in a rut’ and had been so for a good few years. It had not been seriously relevant to me as a CMLI for a few decades. The turnover in CEOs was alarming. As a specialist in LVIA, I had raised the issue with the LI that the GLVIA3 needed a rethink. At times it seems to me to be a ‘developer’s charter’. It often fails to adequately allow reasoned defence of our precious landscape resources – especially the ordinary landscapes so important to local communities. I went to the LI offices for a meeting and was met with by what I can only describe as indifference. They were happy with the GLVIA3 and they saw no reason to review it. The same happened after the excellent zoom discussion on GLVIA (organised by Landscape Matters in 2021) , where the majority of the professionals expressed a view that it needed rethinking, and many considered it not fit for purpose. There was also some excellent feedback from the legal professionals involved in Planning Appeals. We were faced by LI apparent indifference.

At the recent Jun 2023 EGM online Zoom (during the vote counting) we ‘zoomers’ had a chance to express our thoughts. Richard Burden PPLI raised the issue (and I am paraphrasing here) of the LI moving from a traditional membership body to a more business-focused organization due to the charitable status we now have (probably mostly for VAT reasons). Could this be part of the LI’s problem? The Charity Commission have been pushing all charitable bodies over the past 10-15 years to be more business-like – with a small board making all the key decision and being accountable for the majority of actions and activities. The issue of lack of representation of members and in particularly the local branches (9 in England and 1 in each of the devolved nations of Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) was discussed. The issue of central support was mentioned – recalling in the late C20 we had Peter Broadbent and just a few staff. The other issue raised was the lack of voting rights for retired members which is at odds with virtually all other professional body in the construction industry.

In the discussion, I mentioned my experience as President and CEO of SocEnv, a professional body of broadly similar size of members (CEnvs). In that setup I was the first permanent CEO and I set up a new head office and associated procedures. SocEnv had a CEO with 2 support staff and about 20-30 active retired members from our 21+ institutions – assisting in a wide range of support and monitoring roles. The SocEnv support team has now grown to about 6 staff. The federation of 21+ professional institutions (e.g. RICS, ICE, IMechE, IES, IEMA, IStructE, CIAT, CABE, AA, CIWEM, CIWM etc,) each appoints 2 members of their institution to be on the SocEnv ‘Council’ and a small non-executive Board supported by the CEO and support team runs the day to day operations. The organisation is supported by the traditional mix of committees made up of a mixture of volunteers from the various Institutes and SocEnv staff. SocEnv did not have to become a charitable body to gain exemption from VAT reporting because it was a Chartered body and was constituted as a ‘Royal Charter company’. The Landscape Institute, interestingly, is also constituted as a ‘Royal Charter company’ – therefore as I understand it, the LI could operate without charitable status and still retain most of the advantages of charitable status – without the pressure to become more business-like. The SocEnv CEO was both chief administrator and accountable officer. Importantly for the long-term, he was the primary ambassador for the SocEnv as a key voice in the environment sphere and relationship with government and other bodies. Perhaps we need to re-evaluate the roles of our President CEO?

LI Current Objectives

  • The Landscape Institute (LI) is the chartered body for the landscape profession. It is an educational charity that promotes the art and science of landscape practice.
  • The LI’s aim, through the work of its members is to protect, conserve and enhance the natural and built environment for the public benefit.
  • The LI provides a professional home for all landscape practitioners including landscape scientists, landscape planners, landscape architects, landscape managers and urban designers.

Tom Turner reminded us at the EGM that the original constitution of the LI (then the ILA) drafted in the 1930’s had two objectives:

  • To promote the study and advancement of the landscape profession in all its branches
  • To serve as a medium of friendly intercourse between the members and others practicing or interested in the art

The question is: are we a membership organisation…or has the LI evolved to become little more than CMLI licensing body with a journal, and of little real-world relevance to its practicing members; and, punching well below its weight on a nation basis, in terms of policy and influence?

I think somehow the LI has drifted from being a relevant and representational membership organisation to one that seems to be always internally bickering and loosing CEOs, staff and elected members at an alarming rate.

How could the SocEnv or any other Professional Institute Model help us?
I am not suggesting that the SocEnv model (or any other) could solve any or all of the LI’s ills. However, all sides need to work together to modernise and improve the current situation.

The LI likes to label the members’ group which requisitioned the June 2023 EGM as “old fuddy duddies…trapped in the past” – whereas I see us (and in particular Brodie’s vision) as seeking a modernising route to help the LI evolve into a more effective and relevant membership organisation – promoting the art and profession of landscape architecture (and values) – which significantly punches above its weight…and encourages future generations of landscape architects to join us and make a difference.

A key question raised on the EGM Zoom was: is the current governance framework stifling us as a professional institute from achieving our collective aims and objectives? Something is clearly not working. Perhaps we need to create a new modernised professional institute – fit for the twenty-first century. I saw Brodie’s vision as part of this modernising agenda. If we start with the vision, the right form of organisational framework should follow – be it the current model or something slightly different. Doing nothing and saying nothing should not an option.

About the author: Dr David Hickie has been a Chartered Member of the Landscape Institute (CMLI) for 40 years, working inthe  public sector, NGOs, and now in a private small landscape practice. He worked for: Urban Wildlife Trust (now a County Wildlife Trust) as executive Director, Warks CC, Severn Trent Water, National Rivers Authority, Environment Agency, English Heritage (now Historic England) at Assistant Director level, and CEO of the Society for the Environment (SocEnv -a federation of 21+ professional bodies and chartered body awarding Chartered Environment (CEnv) – the Environmental equivalent of Engineering and Science Councils). He was on the LI Technical Committee in the late 1980’s and participated in the early part of the Working Group effort developing GLVIA1.

David Hickie is also an international member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). He has been a founder member and at times an executive director of a number of new professional institutions including: the Institution of Sustainability Professionals and the Institute of Public Sector Environmental Managers, and he has audited the operations of many large and small professional bodies in the UK.

Dr David Hickie has been a chartered member of the Landscape Institute (CMLI) for 40yrs. He has worked in the public sector, NGOs and private practice. He was CEO of the Society for the Environment (SocEnv -a federation of 21+ professional bodies) and was on the Landscape Institute Technical Committee in the 1980’s as part of the Working Group developing GLVIA1. He is also an international member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and has been a founder member of a number of new professional institutions including the Institution of Sustainability Professionals and the Institute of Public Sector Environmental Managers.