Governance and regulation in local environmental
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This research project is concerned with investigating the
processes that underlie local environmental policy making.
International and national policy initiatives stress the local
scale and local agencies as being best placed to implement such
policies, particularly in relation to integrating environmental
policy and economic action. For example, documentation from Local
Agenda 21, the EU's 5th Environmental Action Programme and the UK
government all stress the local delivery of policy. At the same
time there has been a growing interest at the local scale by local
authorities, voluntary groups and private-public partnerships in
devising policy and initiatives.
Despite this most practitioners would agree that delivering such
policy on the ground is extremely difficult. This research project
is examining why this should be the case. The starting premise of
the research team is that it is not so much that policy or the
efforts of policy makers have failed per se, but that there has
been a failure to recognise that there are social processes at work
which affect policy development and implementation. Drawing upon
theoretical work in geography and political economy, we are
undertaking in-depth research into local environmental policy
making and its relationship with economic development in six local
authority areas: Leeds, North East Lincolnshire, Manchester,
Lancashire, Cambridge and Waveney.
We are doing this through detailed interviews with a range of
practitioners, policy makers, businesses and voluntary groups.
While as academics we have an interest in developing the more
theoretical side of our work, we are also concerned that the
research should have practical implications for addressing the
problematic area of integrating economic and environmental
This research project developed out of research projects
previously undertaken by David Gibbs and funded by ESRC ('Towards
the Sustainable City: Integrating Economic Development and the
Environment') and EPSRC ('Towards a Low Carbon Use Economy:
Employment Implications for the Sustainable City') and by Andy
Jonas on 'Conservation Planning in California' funded by the
National Science Foundation. Related work includes a report by
David Gibbs on 'Sustainable Economic Regeneration' for the Local
Summary of aims
Our initial proposal was concerned to examine the processes at
work in local environmental policy making, especially the
integration of environmental and economic development policies. We
aimed to see whether a range of actors was forming into distinct
'environmental policy regimes' at the 'local' scale. Our intention
was to use a focus on environmental policy to investigate processes
of state restructuring and the changing politics of economic
development, drawing upon three bodies of literature: environmental
policy, particularly ecological modernisation; urban regime theory;
and neo-Gramscian regulation/state theory. Our contention was that
the environment could be viewed as a particular 'extra-economic'
condition of local governance and social regulation, thus allowing
us to examine the wider economic and extra-economic (regulatory)
contexts in which local regimes coalesce or fragment.
Decision-makers at the local scale were drawn from a wide range
of actors including: politicians, local authority officers,
environmental groups and agencies, and private sector
representatives. However, local authorities remain key drivers and
deliverers of environmental and economic development policies. The
role of business in area-based environmental policy is not
significant except on specific issues (e.g., congestion charging,
estuary management). Environmental pressure groups are influential,
especially where they have significantly penetrated local
governance arrangements. Although the environment is a key part of
'good governance', an emphasis upon competitiveness and growth
means it remains marginal to economic policy making.
The blurring of distinctions between environmental and economic
policy reflects the move away from LA21 to integrated community
strategies. There is little evidence that Local Agenda 21 is the
principal delivery vehicle for local environmental policy. Although
our case studies show some commitment to LA 21, there are many
other areas/issues where strategic governance capacities on the
environment are being developed locally and regionally.
The concept of 'local environmental policy regimes' needs to be
refined. We discovered few instances where local authorities, local
firms, government departments, pressure groups etc., have coalesced
to create relatively coherent institutional structures for managing
economy-environment tensions at the sub-national scale. Rather than
fully-formed regimes, we are seeing emerging regimes for
environmental governance around specific issues such as estuary
management and promoting the sustainable city.
Many of the incentives, constraints and rules governing the
local environment are set internationally (e.g. at EU level) and
nationally (by various state and non-state agencies) then
implemented, responded to or opposed locally. Extra-local
influences and actors are of central importance in defining the
terms of the debate in local areas. Despite this, there remains
something 'local' about the ways that governance operates, the
conditions in the environment that are being regulated and the
nature of the local economy.
The notion of multi-scalar governance is useful in understanding
the articulation of conflicting interests and the development of
strategic capacities (a) up and down the territorial hierarchy of
government from international to national and local scales and (b)
across territorial scales, including the local and regional scales.
This concept helps us move away from conceptualising the state and
scale as static, hierarchical and functionalist, and allows us to
capture the complex dynamics of the scalar relations through which
environmental governance is produced.
What we call 'eco-state restructuring' is currently having
profound impacts on local economic and environmental governance,
and the relationship between these. Broadly speaking, we believe
that national and local policy attention to the local environment
and the ecology of cities and regions is a key dimension of the
search for an 'after-Fordist' spatio-institutional fix.
Although there is a series of extra-local pressures arising from
'eco-state restructuring', the local scale remains important
insofar as external regulation acts as a condition for activating
or steering local governance. Local variations in environmental
policy are therefore not merely the result of the uneven effects of
the 'strategic policy selectivity' of the national state. Local
contexts and struggles are important in shaping the interplay
between economic development and the environment, giving rise to
emergent territorial policy regimes.
Early on, LA21 opened up opportunities for local participation
and greater democratic accountability. Our project coincided with a
shift away from LA21 towards integrated community strategies. LA21
would appear to have been overtaken by developments in Labour's
ongoing state modernisation agenda i.e. the inclusion of
environmental considerations in Community Strategies and Best
Value. LA21 has largely been marginalised within national and local
state strategies as New Labour has sought to privilege local and
regional economic growth and competitiveness.
Conflict between the environment and economic development is
helping to produce new territorial scales of governance and
territorialised discourses of the environment. The concept of
multi-scalar governance is a useful one in thinking about the
scaling of the 'local environment' in relation to wider state
structures and policies, and the changing functional relations
between and across levels of government and governance.
A mix of extra-local influences and the rise of multi-scalar
governance are providing opportunities for alternative visions and
strategies for local and regional development. However, while
'environmental' concerns are more central to local political
debates, change is still marked in terms of discourse rather than
concrete action. We conceptualise evolving forms of local
economy-environment relations in terms of the search for a 'local
sustainability fix', which is intended to capture some of the
governance dilemmas created by the current era of economic and
Funded by the ESRC (Grant number R000237997)
Our study is grounded on in-depth case studies of six local
authority districts located in three English regions. These local
authority areas (and the regions) are: Leeds City Council and North
East Lincolnshire Council (Yorkshire and the Humber region),
Manchester City Council and Lancaster City Council (North West
region) and "Greater Cambridge" and Waveney District Council
(Eastern region). Case-study analysis has been based on interviews
with key local and regional policy-makers, activists and
stakeholders, together with the interpretation of a wide range of
background primary and secondary documents and local press
Click on the links for the full-text report (pdf):
G Bridge and A Jonas (2002) Governing nature: the re-regulation
of resources access, production and consumption (Introduction to
special issue on Governing Spaces of Nature in the New Economy)
Environment and Planning A, 34(5): 759-766.
D Gibbs (2000) Ecological Modernisation, Regional Economic
Development and Regional Development Agencies, Geoforum, 31,
D Gibbs (2001) The Environment and the Regions: A New Agenda for
Regional Development in C Miller (Ed.) The Changing UK Planning
System, Hart Publishing: Oxford, 215-229.
D Gibbs (2002) Local Economic Development and the Environment,
D Gibbs (2003) Reconciling economic development and the
environment, Local Environment, 8(1), 3-8.
D Gibbs and A Jonas (2000) Governance and regulation in local
environmental policy: the utility of a regime approach, Geoforum,
D Gibbs and A Jonas (2001) Regional Development Agencies and the
Environment: Emerging Tensions in Environmental Governance in
England?, Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 19.
D Gibbs, A Jonas, and A While (2002) Changing governance
structures and the environment: Theorising the links between
economy and environment at the local and regional scale, Journal of
Environmental Planning and Policy 4: 123-138.
D Gibbs, A Jonas and A While (2003) Multi-scalar governance and
sectoral policy integration in the United Kingdom in W.M.Lafferty
and M. Narodoslawsky (eds.) Regional Sustainable Development in
Europe: The Challenge of Multi-Level Governance Oslo: ProSus,
A Jonas and G Bridge (2003) Governing nature: the re-regulation
of resources, land-use planning and nature conservation' Social
Science Quarterly, (Introduction to Minisymposium on 'Geographical
Perspectives on the Environment'), 84:4, 958-962.
A Jonas and D Gibbs (2003) Changing modes of economic and
environmental governance: A tale of two areas in England, Social
Science Quarterly, 84:4, 1018-1037.
A Jonas, D Gibbs and A While (2004) State modernisation and
local strategic selectivity after Local Agenda 21: evidence from
three northern English localities Policy and Politics
A While, A Jonas and D Gibbs (2004) Unblocking the city: growth
pressures, collective provision and the search for new spaces of
governance in Greater Cambridge, England' Environment and Planning
A, 36, 279-304.
A While, A Jonas and D Gibbs (2004) The environment and the
entrepreneurial city: the 'sustainability fix' in Leeds and
Manchester' International Journal of Urban and Regional Research