Is Regional Planning the Key to Effective Environmental Management?

Provide Case Studies to illustrate your Answer.

GEOG3010 – Environmental Policy and Planning

Andrew Robinson 3112810



Regional Planning

A region is a large territory that that is visibly disjointed from surrounding places, upon consideration of certain attributes. These attributes range from the typical industrial pursuits of an area, such as a wine-growing region, to areas defined by the natural features of the landscape, to culturally defined sectors of the country. Is planning ahead for the future of our environment more effectively tackled as an issue from the regional viewpoint? The answer relies on the character of the institutions that facilitate regional decision making, including whether they are in fact regional in scope, or just decentralised forms of governance. Further, ideas of community involvement are discussed in this paper, and their role in effective implementation of environmental regional management.

The Institutions that Facilitate Regional Planning

A regional approach to planning needs an effective institution to realise effective environmental management (Keyworth 1999). Certain attributes within regional institutions, or organisations make for the capacity to live up to the stated aims and mandates of such decision-making bodies. The lack of these attributes is a source of inefficiency, ineffectiveness and other problems in regional environmental management (Frenkel 1994, Campbell 1996). These regional organisations (RO) are established at regional scale to advance the environmental, economic and social interests of the community (Dore & Woodhill 1999). An effective RO possesses all or most of the following factors: longevity through continued backing by members of government and community (Luscombe & Thomas 1999), and statutory platforms that are both open to criticism and accountability (Campbell 1996, Lambert et al 1995). Further, RO’s require a measure of focus, with a concentration on environmental issues especially necessary for effective environmental management (Powell 1993).

One recently implemented initiative, the Regional Forest Agreements (RFA), display the type of longevity essential for effective management of natural resource existing within our environment. Initiated in 1992 by the Commonwealth’s National Forest Policy, the RFAs are to be durable twenty year agreements on what uses may be applied for the forests of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania (Dore & Woodhill 1999). The RFAs therefore stand regardless of political and bureaucratic turbulence, rendering RFAs a reasonably long life span to properly implement environmental management strategies (Powell 1993). Moreover the RFAs are backed by Commonwealth and State governments, industry, community and lobby groups, ensuring a multiplicity of interests and participation in which to buoy this example of regional environmental management (Dore & Woodhill 1999, Press 1995).

A transparent and accountable statutory foundation is a contributive factor that enables ROs to be more effective, environmentally speaking (Lambert et al 1995, Cullen 1999). The Eyre Regional Development Board (ERDB) provides an example of an RO committed to appearing fair and inclusive of a range of interest groups (Dore & Woodhill 1999). Formed under a local government act in 1992, and funded by both local and state governments, the ERDB is the principle RO responsible for 33 000 people spread over an area of 55 000 square kilometres (Dore & Woodhill 1999). The ERDB is based in the Eyre Peninsula region of coastal South Australia, and feels the need to continually strive to be representative of the region as a whole (Dore & Woodhill 1999). It is precisely because of the transparency of the rules governing the ERDB and the effort to keep its good reputation as an environmental manager that the RO remains effective (Dore & Woodhill 1999). An RO that is open to community as well as government scrutiny is also more likely to attract interest and greater public participation (Lambert et al 1995, Powell 1996).

Regional organisations that place an emphasis on environmental issues, including sustainable regional development, contribute to an approach known as bioregionalism (Lambert et al 1995, Powell 1996). Bioregionalism refers to a regional approach that places priority on environmental sustainability (Powell 1996). Also, this ecological approach fosters greater levels of community and industry participation (Powell 1993). The South East Queensland Project 2001 (SEQ 2001) is a comprehensive example of an RO operating within the biogeographical viewpoint (Lambert et al 1995). The SEQ 2001 project was initiated by a 1990 conference and covers an area of twenty local governments, including Brisbane, Ipswich and the Gold Coast (Lambert et al 1995). The project was driven in the main by nature conservation aspects, which were given priority. Also, the Regional Planning Advisory Group consisting of Commonwealth, State and local governments, community, business and environment issues, set up working groups with a disproportionately large focus on environmental issues (Lambert et al 1995). The bioregionalism of SEQ 2001 provides the thrust behind the decision making of the RO, plainly enabling for concentration on issues of regional sustainable development (Lambert et al 1995).

The Community’s Role in Regional Management

Clearly Australia has an important need for agricultural and industrial practises to become more sustainable, thus contributing to an overall effort for sustainable development in the Australian environment (Keyworth 1999). But to what extent is a regional approach supportive of effective environmental management? We have seen how a sound institutional framework can enhance an RO’s effectiveness in dealing with considerations of environment. However regionalism is not about ROs, but about local communities retaining larger ownership over, and further informed participation in decision – making important in the region as whole (Dore & Woodhill 1999). Regionalism is therefore built upon a community that takes an active and contributive role in decision-making, and has a greater stakeholder ownership in initiatives in the region (Campbell 1996, Dore & Woodhill 1999). The success of ROs relies upon the real interest and input of the community (Keyworth 1999). This points to the possibility that community based activity is more effective than the measure used by government to control regions from the top-down, the so called regionalisation approach (Campbell 1996). For example the Eyre Regional Development Board (ERDB) has been successful largely due to an institutional framework that seeks to increase economic activity through sustainable regional development (Dore & Woodhill 1999). This has been implemented at the local level subject to local government administration (Dore & Woodhill 1999). Thus the public feel like citizens of the region, and the ERDB remains effective at implementing environmental decisions (Campbell 1996).

The EPDB is demonstrably effective; its level of independence from politics can argue it. The target groups individually assigned to issues such as tourism or fishing and aquaculture are derived from community and industry (Luscombe & Thomas 1999). The target groups are derived from non-political sources, and also inform the community on good resource use decisions (Dore & Woodhill 1999, Lambert et al 1995). For example the target group for the environment in the region, the Eyre Peninsula Natural Resource Management Group, ensures that the ROs, governments and community understand the environmental issues, and reach a consensus on appropriate decisions (Dore & Woodhill 1999). Not only is the community instrumental in creating decisions about the environment, they also know more about the issues, and will in turn be generally more supportive of decisions seen to be more effective for environmental management (Campbell 1996).

The Albury – Wodonga Development Corporation (AWDC) has had a rather different history of public participation when compared with the EPDB. The AWDC was established by a Commonwealth act in 1973, and was from the outset an autocratic authority with little community or industry participation (Dore & Woodhill 1999). The AWDC presented a top down approach to regional decision making. Not only was the AWDC’s primary interest economic growth, its statutory base was not transparent, which immediately caused it to be off side with community and the private sector (Dore & Woodhill 1999). The inherent institutional inflexibility and non-transparency of the AWDC made for woeful headway in effective environmental decision making. For example local governments as a result became more parochial, and the community was not kept informed or integrated into decision making and consultation (Dore & Woodhill 1999).

Evidently the above case studies of the EPDB and the AWDC display examples of effective and ineffective public participation processes, respectively. The approach of the EPDB is regionalism, in that local governments retain to a large degree decision-making powers, while the AWDC is a case of regionalisation, or top down regional managerialism (Campbell 1996). When the community is kept informed of the environmental trends, is consulted and helps in the in decision making, a partnership that benefits the region’s environment is formed (Campbell 1996, Lambert et al 1995). On the other hand a local community that is told what to do and is left out of the information loop is resistant to change and less interested in being a contributing regional citizen (Powell 1993). In short, for regional planning to be effective in environmental management, the community must be part of any solution, and not simply administered to (Luscombe & Thomas 1999).

Challenges to Effective Environmental Management

The environment includes the biophysical surroundings and ecological systems that exist within this setting (Dore & Woodhill 1999). There is a multitude of considerations in relation to the environment, such as sustainable regional development and natural resource management ( Powell 1996). The challenge is that for communities to effectively participate in environmental decision making, the issues have to be recognised, discussed and disseminated (Cullen 1999). Community values at this point need to be focussed to be effective (Cullen 1999, Keyworth 1999). For example, an environmental threat might bring communities of the Murray – Darling Basin (MDB) together into a system initiated at grassroots level (Keyworth 1999, Powell 1993). Herein lies the challenge for regionalism to prove effective for environmental management. Regions must find a common environmental issue that binds a region, while retaining community interests also in the myriad other environmental considerations on a more local scale.

How exactly does a region foster a sense of regional identity, emanating from local citizenship? The MDB for example has its river system as the unifying feature of an extremely large region (Powell 1996). And the MDB is huge – it covers over 1 million square kilometres, and is spread across Queensland, NSW, Victoria, SA and the ACT (Powell 1996). The Murray – Darling River, with its salinity and irrigation problems, provides the unifying line based regional issue (Powell 1993). On the local scale problems with land clearing and soil degradation are more immediately noticeable (Dore & Woodhill 1999, Powell 1996). In brief, the challenge lies at the vast spatial differences in scale between the regional and the local, and the sheer size constraints of the MDB (Cullen 1999). How effective then is regional planning in the context of scale, and size constraints?

The regional tactic to environmental management is effective when economies of scale allow for a widely efficient method of decision making, while remaining true to local community requirements (Dore & Woodhill 1999). For example the RFAs were able to combine widespread decision making processes, while consulting representatives from all facets of local communities (Luscombe & Thomas 1999). Similarly, the SEQ 2001 project left individual planning decisions in the hands of the twenty local governments of the region, while providing appropriate arrangements and policies as opposed to a master plan (Lambert et al 1995). The AWDC conversely, dealt with Albury – Wodonga on a regional scale only, and made no effort to reconcile local communities with a regional framework (Dore & Woodhill 1999). In summary, regional planning as a process must progress from the bottom up, rather than vice versa, in order to be an effective environmental manager (Keyworth 1999).

Toward Better Regional Planning

Regional planning has an important part to play in the effective creation and implementation of environmental management. Effective solutions to problems are frequently particular to the scale of regions. Regions provide a scale of activity for which local comminutes can feel a part, through consultation to, contribution to and ownership of regional initiatives (Dore & Woodhill 1999). The engines that carry the regional process of environmental management, the ROs, are key players in the effective running of the region as a whole. However, the institutional structure of such ROs also defines their effectiveness in delivering effective outcomes for the environment. Top down ROs alienate the local communities, while initiatives not constrained by bureaucracy is an efficient method of ensuring continued environmental integrity. With more independence from political departments, and increased community participation, regional planning is certainly a key to effective environmental management.





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