Regional Sustainable Development Frameworks: political rhetoric or a conduit for the governance of sustainability at the national and local scale?’

Ashley, Jayne and Clark, Michael (2008) Regional Sustainable Development Frameworks: political rhetoric or a conduit for the governance of sustainability at the national and local scale?’. In: IBG-RGS Annual Conference, 26th - 29th August 2008, RGS / Imperial College, London.

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The Government’s recently completed Sub-national Economic Development and Regeneration Review (SNR) was commissioned to identify improvements in the existing sub–national structures in England in order to strengthen economic growth, and deliver regeneration and neighbourhood renewal. This continuation of the Government’s devolution agenda makes recommendations for the creation of a whole new landscape of governance. However, the focus on economics results in recommendations that create potential tensions with the aspirations of existing regional stakeholders who have been creating both formally accountable and informal networks in order to deliver more sustainable solutions to development.

This is the latest stage in the long play-off between economic and environmental policy, structures and traditions. Economic development has high political status, as it is seen to encompass matters of national survival such as security of energy supply and international economic competitiveness, so is able to overcome environmental and amenity based objections to associated developments. Living within environmental limits and creating a strong, healthy and just society are relegated to secondary considerations whilst governance appears to operate through the ‘street theatre’ and pseudo-legal processes associated with big development control and investment approval decisions (e.g. airports and power stations). Real power lies with the individuals and organisations who decide medium to long term investment and operating strategies, and block options that do not fit their assumptions or priorities, or run counter to their interests. The challenge for Sustainable Development is to embed its principles at this level, so that issues such as climate change or ecological preservation have the same status as secure access to key resources, robust infrastructure and communications, economic wellbeing, the maintenance of employment and the industrial and commercial capability to adapt to, and to some extent influence, future circumstances.

The implementation of the SNR is currently being negotiated and this paper will explore whether these new arrangements will provide the legitimacy and accountability that the SNR claims is presently absent at the regional level, and meet the aspirations outlined in the Government’s Sustainable Development Strategy.

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