Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Constructions of Sustainability and Spatial Planning: The Case of Dalton Flatts, County Durham, Planning Inquiry

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Constructions of Sustainability and Spatial Planning: The Case of Dalton Flatts, County Durham, Planning Inquiry

Article excerpt

This paper explores the constructions of sustainability within a recent land use planning event. The focus is upon the discursive processes employed by key actors and agents in constructing concepts of sustainability during the local planning inquiry into a retail and leisure proposal in the District of Easington, County Durham 'called in' by the Secretary of State for the Environment. It reveals which discourses in particular were employed and discusses their implications. It concludes that sustainability is very much part of a wider political-economic game and that a high degree of social power lies with those participants who are able to utilise the appropriate discursive spaces and concepts; as a result of these factors the rhetoric of the concept of sustainability is generally not being played out within local level planning contexts.

Sustainable development is a particularly popular, yet enigmatic, concept. It holds considerable public currency, advocating a wide variety of (in)actions towards the 'environment', 'economic growth' and numerous Other' goals. It also has considerable global mobilisation. Yet it is rarely operationalised as a single coherent ideology (Adams, 1990). The concept lacks clear definition and, as such, is multifaceted, multidimensional and highly contested (Redclift, 1992). Many international agencies, governments, multinational corporations, and so on, subscribe to the Brundtland Commission's definition, outlined in the report Our Common Future, where sustainable development is seen as development that

meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. (WCED, 1987, 8)

Mainstream, hegemonic, discourses of sustainable development have tended to follow from this definition (LeIe, 1991), with a focus upon a 'triad' of concerns - basic needs; ecodevelopment; and sustainable use of resources (O'Riordan, 1988).

However, the Brundtland definition has led to much heated discussion and is often interpreted with considerable variety, to suit specific purposes. Sustainable development has been chastised for being a 'cliché'; 'terribly versatile'; 'a truism'; and 'beguiling in simplicity' (Holmberg and Sandbrook, 1992, 20; Adams, 1990, 3; Redclift, 1987, 3, O'Riordan, 1988, 29). It is prey to differing interpretations for the support of various interested parties (Blowers and Glasbergen, 1995). Yet the terms 'sustainability' and 'sustainable development' remain extremely popular in current policy discourses, and are often used synonymously. In many ways sustainability does not equal 'sustainable' + 'development'. Sustainability is a far more complex concept than the mainstream interpretations of sustainable development. It addresses additional ethical features, such as the appropriate management of nature, reflecting the more traditional concerns of environmentalism (Adams, 1995). 'Sustainability' in its strongest sense can be a highly biocentric and ethical endeavour. O'Riordan (1981) suggests that a continuum of environmental concern exists, which encompasses both technocentrism and ecocentrism.

It is difficult not to be in favour of sustainable development, as it seems to hold out the hope of 'development' with at least no further environmental degradation and an improved quality of life (Atkinson et al., 1997). It offers to bridge the gap between economic growth and environmental preservation, without significant changes to the capitalist market system (Escobar, 1996). It is not surprising then to find the terms appearing in a wide range of policy discourses, such as spatial planning.

Within this paper the constructions of sustainability, within a recent land use planning event, are explored. The paper utilises evidence gathered for a recent PhD thesis which explores the social constructions of sustainability using the coalfield regeneration policies, practices and performances in East Durham as a focus (Smith, 2004). …

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