Most of us would probably agree that the case for protecting our natural surroundings and improving the built environment is almost undisputed. The problem of course, is how to translate concern into direct and effective action. I would therefore like to add my own enthusiasm to the Secretary of State’s for this ambitious programme we see here today, and my appreciation to the European Community for adding to our own local and national funding of it. It is certainly encouraging to be able to launch a new environmental initiative, which is rightly European in scope, and which aims to raise public awareness of the importance of improvement and protection throughout the Community.
The impetus that a European dimension can give is important. European Conservation Year in 1970, for example, inspired me to set up my own Committee in Wales to continue the work we had done during that particular year. It is still going, believe it or not, 17 years later. In 1975 European Architectural Heritage Year itself gave birth to the Civic Trust’s Architectural Heritage Fund and its Heritage Education Group.
These initiatives demonstrated, as if it were needed, that problems will not be solved in a year and that continuous effort is needed. They also demonstrated that to have any success whole communities must become involved in the improvement of their own local environment. We therefore need to pin point local leadership and enthusiasm. I believe this new European Year of the Environment should be seen as the chance to inject some new vigour – “both a celebration and a spur to action” as the Chairman of the United Kingdom Committee, Sir Peter Harrop, has put it. The question perhaps is action by whom?
First, it will presumably help to make the environment a major element of both national and international policy making at a political level.
Secondly, and more immediately, it will, I hope, enthuse the business and industrial community who are increasingly recognising that a good environment makes economic as well as visual good sense. The EYE Campaign can give new meaning to the word “awareness”, not just in terms of the environmental effects of industrial activity, but awareness, also of the vital regenerative and restorative role industry needs to play.
This is already happening with ideas like the One Per Cent Club and Business in the Community, but the value of the EYE Campaign amongst other things might be to focus on the areas and schemes where this business advice and support are most needed.
Thirdly, and to my mind the most important of all, it is essential that the EYE Campaign has impact at the local level. The Commission and the UK EYE Committee are providing the necessary framework and the financial support. Success, however, will depend on the actions of a multitude of individuals and small groups, public, private and voluntary, who share our concern with the quality of the environment, particularly that part of it that they see every day.
In Britain, our contribution to the European Year of the Environment has been arranged by a national committee which has brought together Government, both sides of industry, farmers, local authorities, environmental organisations, the media and many others in a joint effort to mobilise public participation in this year. The focus of attention is to be, in general terms, on nature conservation, pollution control, urban improvement and the removal of eyesores and dereliction. The site we are on today is a good example of what can and should be achieved.
I particularly welcome the fact that some of this reclaimed land can be re-used to create jobs in the new industries of the 1980s. These are very badly needed in Cleveland, but on what better site than one which would otherwise have been derelict? It clearly makes no sense whatsoever to use greenfield sites for development when there are opportunities to create the same effect using sites which would otherwise be somewhat useless eyesores. I know only too well that there may be additional problems to overcome in achieving this approach, but if we are to be fully committed to the environment, we simply must do so.
I therefore have enormous pleasure in launching the European Year of the Environment by opening this Vantage Point and by emphasising the immense challenge that faces us throughout this country and Europe. However, if we manage to foster participation at all levels and to build on the willingness and enthusiasm of people to help themselves, we can pass on something to be proud of to future generations.
It now gives me great pleasure to unveil this very suitable plaque.