Local Sustainable Development: Lessons Learned from the New Deal for Communities

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Keywords: Sustainable development, New Deal for Communities

Abstract: Sustainable development has, in recent times, come to feature prominently on the government agendo, particularly in respect of local communities. In line with this, the New Deal for Communities programme was established to work towards the regeneration of some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in England. Now that the scheme has reached its conclusion, this article evaluates the extent to which it met with the government's policies for 'building sustainable communities' as set out in the Strategies on Sustainable Development 1999 and 2005.

INTRODUCTION

In 1999, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister1 launched the New Deal for Communities2 scheme as part of the government s National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal.3 It was an area-based programme designed to 'turn around' deprived communities4 and give local people greater influence over the way in which funds arc used to achieve neighbourhood renewal.5 Whereas previous regeneration programmes had seen monies being paid to central and local government bodies for the purposes of regeneration, typically focusing on specific outcomes,6 the NDC scheme involved monies being allocated directly to particular neighbourhoods for them to manage, under the direction of a Partnership Board, chiefly made up of local representatives.7 It was area-based rather than outcome-based. This ensured a more community-focused attitude to neighbourhood renewal and helped to lay the foundations for what was intended to be a community-led, bottom-up regeneration programme. The rationale for the programme was that it would 'empower local communities to shape a better future for themselves'.8 Indeed, the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal considered that the programme would 'bring together local people, community and voluntary organisations, public agencies, local authorities and business in an intensive local focus to tackle problems such as: poor job prospects; high levels of crime; a rundown environment; and [having] no one in charge of managing the neighbourhood and coordinating the public services that affect it'.9

The 39 NDC programmes across the country were, over a ten-year period, expected to engage in partnership with these various local bodies to achieve certain objectives necessary in each given community.10 Partnership became an important aspect of the scheme and whilst having local residents playing a part was important in terms of participation, the partnership expected of these NDC initiatives meant that other bodies and agencies were also having a say in the operation of the schemes. This shows that though promising increased participation for local citizens, this came at the price of having to negotiate with local bodies and agencies as to the best way forward. Despite this, however, the bottom-up approach of the NDC schemes meant that particular local objectives could be met more successfully. Indeed, as a result of the way in which these objectives differ between communities, localised bodies working to meet these aims would be likely to be more effective at tackling local issues than any centralised decision-making authority. As the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal stated, 'the key to the New Deal for Communities is that it is flexible and very local. There will be complete flexibility on what programmes can cover ... the very local focus will allow communities to identify closely with the programme and be actively involved'.'

The tackling of local deprivation was at the heart of the NDC programme with the 39 schemes being in some of the most deprived areas of the UK.12 With an average of £50m of funding per programme, the NDC was designed to transform these deprived communities and improve the lives of, on average, some 9,900 people who were accommodated within each area.13 This transformation took place on the foundation of six key objectives14 all of which did much to emphasise the community-led nature of the scheme and its focus on local people and the areas in which they live and work.

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