Headlines: January 21st, 1998

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has launched the joint central and local government guidance on Local Agenda 21 – Sustainable Communities for the 21st century. He said: “The time has come to move up a gear on Local Agenda 21 and all local authorities must produce strategies now to ensure sustainable communities into the next millennium.”The guidance is designed to show why and how to produce a Local Agenda 21 strategy. John Prescott said: We aren’t just concerned with cleaning up litter and dog dirt, recycling waste and cutting air pollution. We are in the business of making lasting improvements in the quality of life of local people and their children – working to meet environmental and economic and social goals.

The Agenda 21 overall action plan for the next century was endorsed at the The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the “Earth Summit”), held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. It contains 40 chapters covering, in some 500 pages, practically every area of human activity. It also sets out framework of objectives and activities for environmental protection and sustainable development necessary to see us into the 21st Century. There is also a framework for action by governments and international organisations, voluntary groups, businesses, local authorities and individuals.

Local authority associations worked together to try to meet the 1996 target for adoption of Local Agenda 21 through their Local Agenda 21 Initiative. The DOE helped fund a programme of local “round tables” bringing together these groups. The type of work involved includes, energy efficiency, minimising use of resources and maximising the use of the least environmentally damaging products, traffic measures, and waste minimisation and recycling initiatives.

A Steering Committee drawn from the Local Government Association and representatives of other sectors is now urging UK local authorities to incorporate action to address urban, social, poverty and regeneration issues into their Local Agenda 21 strategies.

It is difficult to assess progress towards Local Agenda 21 because the latest information is from November 1996 and showed that 45% of authorities had still to produce strategies. At this time, half of local authorities had not organised any training or awareness seminars for members.