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Centre for Urban Conflicts Research


Andrew Aaron Robert Hoolachan

Year submitted: 2017
Supervised by: Prof Wendy Pullan

This thesis addresses a research gap concerning the relationship between the Localism Act 2011 and planning’s central purpose of achieving sustainable development. In addition it uses a physical example in urban space to illustrate the main arguments, and in doing so adds to the growing literature on the various outcomes since the Localism Act was enforced across England in 2011. The thesis asks four inter-related questions: Firstly, regarding the theoretical bases of sustainability and localism from the various ontologies of ‘scale’ and ‘the natural’; secondly, regarding the general conflicting assumptions within localism and sustainable development; thirdly, regarding the ways in which sustainable development is inherently multi-scalar; and lastly how the case study example highlights the need for policy-makers to examine the often overlooked trade-offs which exist in normative sustainable development models. The thesis further demonstrates the role that site-specific research can play in grounding theoretical and policy discussions.

The research is situated in the rapidly changing sub-region of East London, particularly in the shadow of the 2012 Olympic regeneration of Stratford and the Borough of Newham. It takes the example of a failed upgrade due the Localism Act, of a multi-scalar and multi-functional ‘Greenway’ to consider the relationship between localism and sustainable urbanism in the context neo-liberalism. Methods comprise site-based analysis in the form of walking, photography and note-taking, the analysis of national, metropolitan and local planning documents, as well as interviews with officials related to policy and design in the area and local residents.

The research finds that national and metropolitan conceptions of sustainable development are weighted differently to those at local scales. In addition the Localism Act exacerbates planning capacities between Local Authorities and the communities they serve. There are some opportunities for neighbourhood planning but these are dependent on local capacities, widening already-existing socio-spatial inequalities. The thesis concludes by destabilising the widely used idea of sustainable development as a ‘balance’ between social, economic and environmental needs. Viewing sustainability through a scalar lens, in our case using a physical site and the policy of Localism, we are able to reveal the material differences between sustainable development agendas which have been criticised for masking over conflict in a post-political manner for the continuation of ‘status quo’ economic development trajectories.

PhD UCR Andrew