Beyond Local Agenda 21: The Search
One of the dominant themes which emerged within these three case studies was to paraphrase Griffith , the question of whether the obituary of sustainable development (LA21) should be written? Writing in 2011 it is tempting to say that LA21 in a UK context was a short lived albeit robust process for realising sustainability at a local level. Yet the quiet annihilation of LA21 has yet to be audited and articulated to an academic audience.
Respondents in the 2003 study within each case study, made reference to central government policy agenda setting, with Best Value and Community Planning emerging through the statutory framework introduced by the Local Government Act (2000), to create at least partial community-responsive service delivery. The inference was that the policy territory for LA21 within local authorities might become constrained, with resources being directed to Best Value, Community Planning (and latterly Local Strategic Partnerships) as statutory undertakings, with the discretionary activity such as LA21 losing its policy momentum. The postscript to the Case Study One is that the community inspired process of the evolving LA21 document and ‘Jigsaw Group’ (Sustainability Core Group) has been subsumed within an environmental element of the evolving Local Strategic Partnership. What needs to be established is whether these policy processes will overtly create awareness and deliver the sustainability that was anticipated from LA21 policy processes? There were multiple references within the three case studies of the emergence of these policy initiatives directed by central policy agenda setting. This can be contrasted with the positive aspects of LA21 to emerge from this research project, not least the capacity of LA21 to establish policy sustainability for sustainability.
This paper anticipates that finding links between 2003 data with
longitudinal data on sustainability at a local level in the UK today will be challenging. The normative expectation in 2003 was that the local implementation structures in certain models of local authorities would continue to strengthen and offer the prospect that even under the rebranding of LA21 into LSPs and Community Strategies, local visions of sustainability would have strong community identity. However both the national government commitment to sustainable development and local authority capacity to fund specific units of officers to engage in promoting the policy imperatives of sustainability have been weakened by substantial government cutbacks in local authority budgets and the ability of local authorities to raise additional revenue under the current Coalition Government.
The plan in the update of the 2003 research project is to recontact these three local authorities and interview key officers with a significant role in inculcating the principles of sustainability. But also to conduct an audit trail of what has emerged since the quiet annihilation of LA21. Arguably, not only is the local branding of sustainability projects and initiatives no longer so prominent with the disappearance of the discourse of Local Agenda 21 from UK policy networks, but the UK government’s ‘Big’ Society has become the political zeitgeist of the moment in the UK. Whilst political theorists have long speculated on the nature of the concept of civil society  authors such as Ellison [2: 58] argues that ‘Big Society’ may well be largely about rhetoric rather than reality, and that in determining its feasibility “the issue is important because the scale of transition of services hitherto delivered by the state to providers from the voluntary and community sectors and social enterprises, is such that many groups and communities could be adversely affected should the dynamic new
‘civil society’ fail to emerge. The challenge for the author of this paper is to create methodologies in locating an audit trail of initiatives for sustainability which also capture the ‘realities or rhetoric’ of so called ‘Big Society’.
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Dr. Nigel D. Morpeth
School of Events, Tourism and Hospitality Leeds Metropolitan University
City Campus United Kingdom www.leedsmet.ac.uk email@example.com
Dr. Nigel D. Morpeth is a Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management and holds degrees in Government and Politics, Recreation Management and Sustainability and Tourism. He has published work internationally on sustainable tourism policy, communities, cultural events and festivals, tourism development and aspects of special interest tourism.
His current research interests are in religious tourism and pilgrimage and in linkages between the creative industries and tourism, specifically in art, artists and tourism. He is co-editor with colleague Razaq Raj, of the CABI text ‘Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage Management: An International Perspective (2007).