Accountability and citizen participation are crucial in the process of local sustainability
An academic from City University London has called on the government to relinquish control of local decision-making if local sustainability is to work. Dr John Stanton, who teaches Constitutional and Administrative Law at The City Law School, says that local power should be placed in the hands of local people rather than continuing to be supervised by centralized authority.
"Successive governments say that decentralisation and 'people power' will become the 'new way', however, this rarely happens to the necessary degree. In fact, a fundamental change in the attitude of central government is needed. Decentralising control and empowering local citizens through policies and initiatives is one thing, however, what is really needed is the recognition that central government should not interfere with and micro-manage the operation of those policies".
In his recently published book, Democratic Sustainability in a New Era of Localism, Dr Stanton considers whether democracy enhances decision-making processes pertaining to the achievement of local sustainable development in England and how such decision-making might best be used to improve the achievement of sustainable development. It is retrospective in its analysis and offers possible ways in which local sustainable development might be improved in the future.
Dr Stanton cites Islington's EC1 New Deal for Communities (NDC) programme as an example of how devolution has already worked to increase participation and accountability in local sustainability. It was one of 39 NDC partnerships across the country that was awarded £52.9 million over 10 years to tackle a range of inter-related problems such as poor health, low levels of education and economic activity and high crime.
For example,Spa Fields, which is close to City University London and Exmouth Market, was transformed from a rundown playground, largely deserted and not particularly welcoming, to a vibrant green space, popular with local residents and workers - change that was introduced with the direct involvement of local people who used the space and knew what it needed. Similarly, the promenade space next to Old Street London Underground station was developed in line with local consultation.
"The EC1 partnership was regarded as one of the most successful branches of the nationwide scheme and provided evidence that where citizens participate and accountable leadership is provided, local areas can be sustainably improved for the better. Of course, there were issues that hindered the full extent of that success in some way, though for the most part I think EC1 provides a good example of the potential benefits of local democracy in improving local areas".
Dr Stanton argues that if central government were less prescriptive and directing over local schemes and initiatives then communities and citizens could better develop a sense of ownership and independence over the development of their communities.
"The need for sustainable regeneration is all around us and evident all over the country, both in the country, in towns and in cities. Citizens should have a significant say in the way in which this happens and the manner in which changes introduced to improve their lives are formulated and implemented. I would like to see increased citizen participation and greater community engagement with the need to come together and regenerate deprived areas".
This book shows that local sustainability is enhanced by accountability and citizen participation; those principles ensuring that local people can be central to the process. Whilst its evaluations of local democratic systems in the UK reveal certain issues as regards the extent to which this is reflected in practice, it at least demonstrates an enthusiasm and awareness of the important role that accountability and citizen participation can play in the process of local sustainability.