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Local Government and Sustainable Development in the UK: Engaging the Local to Achieve the Global



Due for Publication March 2024, Routledge



Sustainable development is one of the 21st century’s most important concepts (Borne 2010; Borne 2018).  The  adoption of the United Nations Sustainable Development  Goals in 2015 has further embedded the concept on the international, national and local stage. Whilst the emphasis is on the achievement of targets in relation to the 17 goals the success or otherwise   will rest on the ability to effectively communicate the  central components of sustainable development to organisations and individuals around the world.  The salience of the risks that are inherently represented within the discourse of sustainable development remains starkly under researched and under represented in policy frameworks.


This book will explore the ability of sustainable devleopment  and  the global risks associated with it  to effect real change at the global and local scales of analysis.  Drawing on and advancing theoretical frameworks that emphasis  risk and reflexive modernity (Borne 2010; 2017, 2018)  this book will present data, discussion and recommendations from the  largest and most detailed  empirical research in the UK to explore sustainable devleopment and associated risks at the local, community and individual level.


The focus of the research and analysis presented in this book is the local government tier of parish councils. There are over 10000 town in parish councils in England and Wales  that sit at the heart of many local communities.  Parish councils are the closest level of government to their communities and  play a pivotal role in shaping these communities. They are constituent of and should be representative of these communities and are therefore best placed to understand local needs. With this in mind there is a significant lack of research that relates to parish councils and their ability to understand and respond to  sustainable development related policies (Brownhill and Bradley 2017; Wills 2016).


This book will argue that there needs to be a reconceptualization of parish councils that sit within not only local governance structures but are impacted by and impact upon global governance discourses. This book therefore identifies   parish councils as a nexus point of multiple local and global networks that highlight the relationship between global and local dynamics.  The book will argue that the research points to a poorly understood and so significantly underutilised  tier of government that can directly address some of the most pressing problems that face society in the 21st Century.  The book will bridge the divide between global and local scales of analysis  providing an internationally relevant perspective. This book argues that there needs to be a discursive, structural and behavioural realignment if the SDGs are to have a realistic impact on local communities.



Section 1: Provides the overall foundation for the book introducing the key terms and making connections between them.


Chapter One -Introduction  

The introductory chapter will provide the rationale and overview for the book.  The chapter will introduce the concept of sustainable devleopment its evolution and rise to become a dominant, yet contested and ambiguous discourse in the 21st Century. The sustainable devleopment goals will be introduced where it will be argued that a narrow focus on target setting and attainment runs the risk of  perpetuating locked in practices  and frameworks that do not produce effective sustainable transitions (Kanie and  Biermann 2017). This chapter will argue that a more indepth  discursive understanding of sustainable development is needed. The aforementioned discussion, will be accompanied by a historical narrative that will contextualise parish councils relating them to the localism agenda and the importance of exploring sustainability at the parish scale will be established.  An exploration of the international landscape of local governance will be introduced positioning the research presented in this book within a global context.  This chapter sets the scene for establishing the transferability of research findings, conclusions and evaluations to a global and local audience. The overall structure of the book will be presented. 


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Sustainable Devleopment evolutions

Sustainable Development Goals

Local Governance and the Parish Councils

Sustainability, Parish Councils and Glocal governance

Book structure



Chapter Two: Local governance in a global context

This chapter will provide an overarching  review of the international, national  and regional sustainability dynamics relating to local governance.  The chapter  will establish a link between debates surrounding the  Sustainable Development Goals as well as national and regional policies and frameworks.  The chapter will elaborate on Sustainable Development Goal eleven that focuses on sustainable cities and communities.  However, the chapter will also expand on this specific goal to identify the interconnections between the other sixteen SDGs.  Pertinent policy and legislative frameworks will be discussed to establish the broader context within which parish councils operate and what this means for the opportunities and barriers for creating sustainable communities. This discussion is underpinned by a recognition that underlying policies and investments are a shared responsibility across levels of government and that  the 169 SDG targets  will not be reached without  engagement of and coordination with local and regional governments (UNSDSN 2016).  Considering the aforementioned comments  the chapter will provide a critical review of the evolution of the sustainable devleopment goals with reference to the transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) identifying lessons learned from the MDG process.  The chapter will  develop the thesis  that there is a need for a deeper understanding of local governance and community dynamics, not just structurally but discursively  before effective engagement with the broader sustainable devleopment agenda can be established.


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Subnational Connections

SDGs and Localism

The Regional Policy Landscape

Beyond Targets: Learning from the Millennium Development Goals  



Section 2: This section will focus on quantitative data from the broad based survey administered to all town and parish councils in Devon and Cornwall.  This section will provide a detailed over view of the case study areas identifying governance structures, and local and global priorities about sustainable development risks.



Chapter Three: Unpacking the  parish

This chapter will elaborate on the role of parish councils.  Parish councils will be identified as a nexus where multiple global and local issues converge. The case studies of Devon and Cornwall will be introduced, and the methodology discussed.  This chapter will explore the demographics of parish council in Devon and Cornwall drawing comparisons between local, national and international  local governance frameworks.  Comparing and contrasting over one hundred and fifty variables this chapter establishes the sustainability landscape within parish councils.  The chapter explores the priorities for parish councils and how these relate to parish size, location and socioeconomic context. These insights are then related to  interparish dynamics with the role of both vertical and horizontal partnerships being explored.  Individual, clustered and collective approaches to governance are  examined as well as the overall effectiveness of the parish council as a delivery mechanism for local services and as a representative body for community’s issues. This chapter provides an essential foundation for subsequent analysis drawing on the most recent literature across relevant disciplines to inform the discussion.


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The Parish  Nexus: Global and local flows

Case Studies: Devon and Cornwall

Beyond the Stereo Type  

A Sustainability Trade Off

Partnerships, Collaborations and Conflicts



Chapter Four: Parish Priorities

This chapter will elaborate further on the survey data presenting specific data on several key sustainable devleopment related themes.  The chapter will explore the relationship between community structure, discourses and priorities assigned to different aspects of sustainable devleopment. This data will be overlayed with the data presented  in chapter Three using a series of Geographical Information System visualisations that will highlight the  interplay between economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable devleopment both within and amongst parish councils. These themes will be compared at the individual, county, national and international scale.   This chapter will also explore the underlying cogitative frames of nature, sustainable development  and the environment which have been identified as promoting or inhibiting engagement with the broader discourses of sustainable devleopment that ultimately lead to action (Macnaughten and Urry 1998; Borne 2010).


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Community, Structure and Discourse

Competing priorities

Regional, national and international disparities

Where the truth lies

The myths of nature



Section 3: This section will present an in-depth analysis of the  qualitative data and explores deep discourses of sustainable devleopment, risk, community and individual engagement with nature.



Chapter Five:  Fractured  Communities

Informed by data and analysis in Section 3 this chapter will emphasise the relationship between  misconceptions of community and the integration of the principles of sustainable development. This chapter will elaborate on theoretical issues that relate to late modernity, reflexivity and notions of metamorphosis within a risk society providing a theoretical framework for the subsequent empirical observations within this chapter (Beck 2016). Moreover, the theoretical discussion will establish connections between sustainable devleopment and a risk society within the context of the United Nations that are able to expose the flaws in the underlying assumptions of the Sustainable Development Goals (Borne 2010). The chapter expands on the notion of community arguing that in a  globalised reflexive modern world community is  fractured and disjointed.  Through an in-depth discourse analysis this chapter exposes the complex and fluid nature of community as represented through the lens of the parish council. The chapter identifies a number of core themes that emerged from the data  providing insights into the diverse ways that community groups internalise sustainability messaging and how this translates into parish and community level action.  The chapter argues that a more sophisticated model for understanding community is necessary in order to effectively embed sustainability at the local level and enable and empower local communities.



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Community in a risk society

The Elusive Community

Sub political Metamorphosis

Sustainable Devleopment as a Function of Risk 




Chapter Six: Internalising Sustainable Development

This chapter explores the empirical data in relation to the understanding and responses to  sustainable development.  Discourses of sustainable development are explored with an emphasis the relationship between   global and local notions of risk. This includes climate change, flooding, pollution, biodiversity loss, and more. Sustainable development is contextualised within the context of the parish area highlighting several discursive themes that emerged.  Issues such as localised flooding, energy use, housing, the provision of local services and more are then superimposed on these framing discourses.  The relationship between these discourses and ensuring action, individually and at the community level are then discussed. The chapter argues that there is a significant disjuncture between the global level messaging and the more localised risks that impact on everyday lives and local governance structures. The chapter also presents ways that these disjuncture’s can be addressed. These insights set the scene for further discussions that identify opportunities and barriers for the realignment of discourses and policies to reconnect the global with the local. Issues of the ‘salience of climate change’ and other global risks are weighed against local imperatives and necessities. Climate change emerged as a dominant sustainable development discourse. This discourse manifest in multiple ways and provided both a conduit and a significant barrier to the transmission of sustainable development messaging from the international to the local levels. These findings have significant implications for the uptake of the sustainable development goals within local government and governance more broadly. This chapter argues that the research highlights the need to employ altered discursive techniques.


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The Salience of Sustainable Devleopment

Global and  Local Risk

Risk Priorities

From Relevance to Reaction

Filling the void

Climate Change

Altering the discursive Framework



Section 4: In light of the data and analysis presented in the previous chapters this section  begins with a top down exploration of where there are identifiable and discursive synergies between sustainable development at the global level and those identified within parish councils.


Chapter Seven

Considering the data presented in the pervious chapter this chapter inverts the discussion to focus on the international scale and explores the synergies and disjuncture’s between global messaging on sustainable development and local articulations.  This chapter presents analysis of a discourse analysis of United Nations documentation produced following the implementation the Sustainable Development Goals.  This includes proceedings from the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) building on previous work that identified the UNGA as a significant indicator of global discourse on global priorities and especially sustainable development (Borne 2010).  This chapter then compares and contrasts these priorities  to the parish level data developing a typology of global and local discourse that includes proprieties and action points.



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Creating the narrative

United Nations General Assembly

Points of departure

Communicating Change



Chapter  Eight:  Conclusion: Making connections, exposing disparities

This final chapter will achieve a number of  goals.  Firstly,  the theoretical discussions explored in the book will be revisited where a revised framework will be developed in order to accommodate the tensions and paradoxes that have been presented in the previous chapters. Secondly, the implications that research presented has for the implementation and successful uptake of the sustainable development goals will be discussed. This will centre around the need to realistically engage with multiple and fractured communities, paradoxes and tensions. Thirdly, this chapter will explore  the importance of the parish council within the sustainability agenda. From a bottom up perspective this chapter will also provide recommendations to parish councils to engage with the broader sustainable development debate.  This will extend to a critique of the current policy framework within which parish councils sit and how this may be enhanced to best reflect the current global context. Finally, this chapter will provide a direction for future work and recommendations at the policy and practical levels. 


Table of Contents


Risk Society Revisited

Framing the Goal Hitting the Target

Changing the world one parish at a time

The Policy Problem

Future Research



Beck, U. (2016). The metamorphosis of the world: How climate change is transforming our concept of the world. Cambridge, Polity Press.

Borne, G. (2010). A framework for sustainable global development and the effective governance of risk. New York, Edwin Mellen Press

Borne, G., & Ponting, J. (Eds.). (2017). Sustainable surfing. London, Routledge

Borne, G. (2018). Surfing and Sustainability. Routledge.

Brownill, S., & Bradley, Q. (Eds.). (2017). Localism and neighbourhood planning: Power to the people? Policy Press.

Wills, J. (2016). Locating localism: Statecraft, citizenship and democracy. Policy Press.

Kanie, N., & Biermann, F. (Eds.). (2017). Governing through goals: Sustainable development goals as governance innovation.  MIT Press.

Macnaghten, P., & Urry, J. (1998). Contested natures, London, Sage.

UN Sustainable Development Solution Network (2016) Getting Started with the SDGs in Cities. A Guide for Stakeholders


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