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Addressing environmental, economic and social regeneration in the Northern Adelaide region

1 Cate Atkinson and 2Rodin Genoff

1Acting Group Manager, City Development, City of Playford, 2 Economic and Industry Strategist, City of Playford


September 2002 marks 10 years since the Rio Earth Summit. Progress has at times appeared glacial. But one thing is certain, the pace and direction of change as we enter the 21st Century is gathering strong momentum. Who 10 years ago, would have believed that a large multi-national company like Shell would be embracing triple bottom line accounting.

Local Agenda 21 has marked a change in thinking and has significantly influenced government legislation in a manner that encourages a total approach to sustainability, and environmental, economic and social accountability. The European Commission, for example, between 1995 and 2000 funded a project aptly named ADAPT to the tune of DM500 million (around A$0.5 billion) to assist small to medium sized enterprises in Germany. ADAPT funded 678 projects with a major proportion of these initiatives in the category of ‘jobs and environment’.

In Australia, local Councils without environment officers are becoming the exception rather than the rule. At a policy level, there is a strong commitment to integrate social, economic and environmental issues. However, despite this commitment and good will, the rhetoric at least in Australia falls short of reality.

In an environment of fiscal constraint, the funding of significant sustainable projects has not occurred. This reinforces our conservative approach of ‘one step at a time’. The small increments in sustainability whilst laudable, will not make a significant impact and will not change the way we view development, the environment, and social integration. Perhaps even more disappointing, is the political reality that we are still failing to accord environmental issues sufficient priority in the development of projects, which can in fact make a difference.

Our challenge is to formulate sophisticated approaches to jobs and the environment along the lines of ADAPT in Germany - projects actually integrating economic drivers of growth with social and environmental agendas. So, what are we waiting for?

In the following paper, we discuss some of the thinking and initiatives influencing the process of integration into practical projects at the City of Playford. For Playford, as we enter 2002, we are at the beginning of a new journey as the promise of integration is unfolding into a new reality for our community and business. ‘Importantly it is to test our ingenuity and creativity to meet our communities needs. To achieve what Landry refers to as making the extraordinary possible.’ (see T. Bell, Governance Architectures)

Bottom up solutions

Sprenger (2001) in evaluating ADAPT for the European Commission observes that:

The declining confidence in the top-down approaches and the increasing fears of job losses in the wake of global competition have brought the environmental activities at the EU level and the level of national governments to a virtual legislative standstill. In the largely neo-liberal deregulation debate, municipalities and local initiatives have become the driving force in environmental protection… The importance of local environmental and employment initiatives has also increased because the economic structural change has led to vacated sites that can only be reclaimed via ecological restoration and economic modernisation (‘eco-renovation’).

Globalisation and the failure of macro-economic policy is leading to the development of new models of governance and bottom-up approaches. The same can be said of Australia where the push for devolution and greater local accountability is growing at both the State and Commonwealth level.

In fact the OECD in Devolution and Globalisation conclude:

Devolution provides an opportunity for institutional and policy innovation that should be seized.

We know that bottom-up works. But it must be in tandem with top-down and flexible national policy architectures. This challenges each tier of government in Australia to develop new whole of government organisational and institutional structures to meet the aspirations of the community and business.

As the OECD in Local Partnerships for Better Governance observes:

This wish for greater local participation has often come about as reaction to the poor results attained by policies only weakly linked to local conditions. It has also been a reaction to the persistence of social exclusion and its associated problems, despite recent economic growth. Partnerships are seen as a means to an improved quality of life…

But making this happen means a commitment to

…providing a flexible management framework for policies at a local level to foster an integrated approach to policy development… (ibid, our emphasis).

And at a time in Australia when a growing economy and ‘fiscal constraints’ have led to budget surpluses, we must be mindful of simply seeing devolution as a means of passing the buck and/or making administrative savings. So beware of the finance department burning the midnight oil!

Local government — meeting the challenges of devolution

Legislative changes to local government, the continual merging of the responsibilities between Commonwealth, State and Local Government and increasing expectations of the community and business mean an enhanced role for local government in the areas of economic, social and environmental management and development. In fact, it significantly impacts on the need to collectively respond to environmental, economic and social issues. Increasingly, the community is turning towards local government to respond to their needs, just as the Commonwealth and State Governments are also turning to local government to deliver a range of services traditionally delivered by these two tiers of government.

Today, the emphasis is on collaboration between different agencies (government and non-government) to achieve desired outcomes across a number of different spheres. The future prosperity of the City of Playford depends on the application of environmental best practice by both government and business across a wide range of industries, from horticulture and food processing to plastics, automotive and knowledge intensive engineering.

To promote these existing initiatives and build on them, the City of Playford has adopted an integrated approach to sustainable environmental practice through its policy and management. This approach recognises the important links between environmental concerns with social and economic considerations. The Council defines sustainable development as a process that aims to make the most of our economy, our environment and the welfare of our people, to improve the quality of our life, now and in the future. Sustainable systems therefore, are those that are economically viable, ecologically sound (i.e. they do not result in environmental damage over time such as loss of topsoil, land degradation or reduced water quality) and socially responsible. Council’s position is that development lacking in any of these dimensions, cannot be sustainable over time.

Integration must then be adopted by both government and the community to achieve change. Traditionally, local government developed and operated independent programs for environmental, economic and social issues. It was not until the 1990’s that the true value of integration and collaboration were identified through such elements as strategic planning, Council mergers as a result of boundary reforms, and programs such as Integrated Local Area Planning. Likewise, economic growth and social regeneration has traditionally been isolated from environmental initiatives in the private sector.

In developing an integrated framework, it is important to give emphasis to the range of elements that need to be adopted to achieve success. The following elements have been adopted by Playford to achieve its desired outcomes as outlined in Governance Architectures. Integrated Planning and Partnership Building in the City of Playford:

  • Establish the council structure on the fundamental premise of integration and build this into the strategic planning process. Establish the relationships and linkages across council that will ensure the interaction necessary and will develop the core plans.
  • Ensure the staff have the skill and expertise to achieve integration.
  • Develop the key disciplines of social, environmental and economic planning in a integrated manner, overcoming the conflicts that arise within each discipline and commitment.
  • Develop a clear expression of the projects and processes (the development of a plan that can be understood and adopted).
  • Develop a clear definition of outcome measures.
  • Be aware of the threat of simply establishing another project group. Success will depend on the ability of the structure to initiate integrated projects, and develop them to a point of implementation by others.
  • Provide opportunities for the implementation of actions on the basis of a collaborative model. As an example, in Playford, the Playford Partnership has become a significant opportunity for the Government and Non Government sectors to communicate, co-ordinate and guide the resource base of the Council.

City of Playford environmental and industrial regeneration

Through reviewing the way we approach business, the thread of sustainability is becoming embedded in all Council projects. There are a number of key projects that demonstrate collaborative sustainability within Playford.

Financial model

The financial model now adopted by Council is a collaborative model across the Council business units. It is based on endorsing the three key goals of its Community Plan: Environmental Care, Economic Prosperity, and Community Wellbeing. All operating and capital projects are aligned to these three goals, and an integrated approach to funding projects has been adopted. Only those capital projects that meet the model of satisfying more than one goal will be considered for funding, and a emphasis is placed on collaborative projects cutting across the more traditional siloed units.

Council has also endorsed the concept of establishing a environmental revolving fund. On the premise of 50% of all savings are redirected to environmentally sustainable projects, notwithstanding their capital investment, it is anticipated that the Council will be in a position to fund a significant number of sustainable projects along the model developed by the City of Newcastle.

Energy management

Energy management and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is a whole of Council project, with a project team managing the implementation of efficiency in all areas. This has been taken further in a regional context with a formal partnership between four adjoining Councils with Playford that establishes the Northern Adelaide Greenhouse Management Plan. Not only do we therefore work collaboratively in-house, but also have recognised the significant need for a regional approach to issues that have no physical boundaries. (see Northern Adelaide Greenhouse Management Community Action Plan, 2001)

Water management

Water management has traditionally been ‘owned’ by infrastructure. We can all remember when water was considered a waste product rather than as a resource. When viewed holistically, the provision of water management systems, and the application of water in our management of the environment must be considered in tandem. Playford is establishing an integrated project team to provide the direction needed to ensure the inter-relationships between projects relating to water, from stormwater reuse to infrastructure provision, are maximised. The intent is for Council to be totally self sufficient in water needs within the next 10 years.

Greening the supply chain

Can local and indeed each tier of government do more than just support traditional greening projects? The answer is yes!

Over the past eighteen months, Ecobusiness Consultants, the University of Technology Sydney and the City of Playford undertook a joint project on greening the supply chain for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

The project:

  • Overviewed issues that affect SMEs in undertaking sustainable business practices.
  • Examined supply chain linkages including a best practice case study.
  • Developed an understanding of strategies to diffuse sustainable production process/best practice to enhance productivity improvement.

In the final study, Implementing the Green Advantage™, recommendations were developed to advance green supply chain issues in the region. The next stage of the project is currently being formulated.

Social regeneration

Playford has been cited as one of the most disadvantaged social areas of Adelaide with a host of social ailments ranging from structural adjustment issues, low education levels, poor physical infrastructure, lack of investment in the public realm, housing stock not matching housing requirements, and a general lack of facilities and services.

Addressing these problems is a challenge! The City of Playford is responding to this challenge through endorsing the principles of social capital in the development of its Social and Economic Plans and recognition of the role social capital plays in turning around the outcomes and prospects for its community.

The Playford Partnership, established in 1999 represents the development of a framework where the parties in the Partnership have common aims and a desire to make a difference. The Partnership, an initiative of Council, developed through a common understanding of the issues, and the willingness of the State Government and key community services sector agencies and groups to work collaboratively within a formal Charter to establish action on the ground. Specific project officers are working closely between the community, Council and the agencies to establish this action and foster community ownership to ensure success.

At a broader level in Northern Adelaide, social regeneration is intimately linked to industrial regeneration to rebuild the employment and income base of the region. The City of Playford’s Economic Plan draws on new economic thinking regarding innovation, industry clustering and collaboration between the private and public sectors (see, Genoff and Green 1998; Brain 1999). And while major companies like General Motors continue to make investments in state of the art technology, new start ups for the region, just as for the rest of the State are low, and are holding back employment growth.

While some economists speak of the state’s genteel decline, the community in Playford wants action. With the region accounting for 70 per cent of the state’s manufacturing output in engineering intensive industries, there is much to build upon.

Sustainable regions: top down meets bottom up – Federal Government has a go!

The challenge of sustainable regeneration has not gone un-noticed by the Federal Government.

Sustainable Regions is one such Commonwealth program which not only embodies this new policy direction of developing local partnerships and bottom up approaches, but also challenges the local community to integrate its economic, social and environmental agendas. Eligible communities for this program included those facing significant social disadvantage.

Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson made $12 million of the program’s $100.5million program available to the Cities of Playford and Salisbury which have faced significant adjustment pressures and continue to experience pockets of entrenched and inter-generational unemployment.

The Department of Transport and Regional Services administering the program has recognised that top-down approaches have not succeeded in their own right. Well resourced initiatives, aimed at projects which make a difference and implemented through a local and ‘connected’ governance structure, can create long term and sustainable outcomes. In fact the Advisory Group for this initiative reports directly to the Deputy Prime Minister. In a global economy, empowering communities and individuals at the local level is a vital step to ensuring that macro-economic labour and industry development policies can be tailored as much as possible to create job security, futures for our young school leavers and sustainable economic outcomes.

Over the coming three years, this program will form a major plank in a raft of integrated measures to tackle issues of social and industrial regeneration.

Concluding remarks

Environmentally, we must make a conscious decision to change our approach and adopt a ‘brave new world’ attitude to environmentalism.

In the past, Local Agenda 21 has been badged as the vehicle for heightening community participation and improving consultation techniques, and rethinking past ‘givens’ about how Councils interface and interact with their community. It was recognised as an important tool in implementing ecologically sustainable development at the local level. But have we really achieved this? We are moving on from the premise that local action by local people will address sustainability, and seeking greater involvement and investment from government structures. Whilst the theme remains the same, the mechanism to achieve the desired outcome is shifting to a governmental approach. Although this raises the profile and opportunity for significant economic investment, there is a real need to ensure that ecologically sustainable development is a significant expression of what people would like to see happen, not only on a local level, but also within the regional, State and National contexts. This can, and is, being achieved in Playford through integration.

A review of experience shows that successful approaches share certain characteristics. They set priorities and establish a long-term vision; seek to promote convergence between already existing planning frameworks; promote ownership; can demonstrate national commitment; and are built on appropriate participation. Lower levels of success can be attributed to strategies which over-emphasise a product, take the form of one-off, separate initiatives, and are exclusively top-down. Strategies which have been presented as new concepts, have undermined existing processes and wasted scarce resources by starting new processes from scratch. In addition, many strategies have failed to address the deep economic, social and institutional changes needed for sustainable development (OECD DAC Guidelines: Strategies for Sustainable Development (Executive Summary).

Playford’s aim, over the next decade is to avoid such failure, through the collaborative approach to environmental, economic and social programs and actions that will see significant regeneration occurring on the northern urban fringe. Through such action, the community of today will raise its sights to be the valued basis of the community of tomorrow.


Atkinson, C City of Playford Environmental Management Plan, December 1999

Bell, T Governance Architectures, Integrating Planning and Partnership Building in the City of Playford, October 2001

Brain P Beyond the Meltdown, Scribe, Melbourne, 1999.

Cities of Charles Sturt, Tea Tree Gully, Salisbury, Playford, Port Adelaide Enfield Northern Adelaide Greenhouse Management Community Action Plan, July 2001

Collaborative Economics Models of Sustainable Regions, September 1997

De Leeuw L, Bubna-Litic K and Genoff R Implementing the Green Advantage™ in Small and Medium Sized Enterprises, City of Playford 2001

Genoff, R and Green R Manufacturing Prosperity. Ideas for Industry, Technology and Employment, Federation Press, Sydney 1998

Genoff, R An Innovative City, Economic Plan, City of Playford, September 1999

Genoff, R The City of Playford’s Cluster Strategy for Industrial Renewal: Building Regional Systems of Innovation, Report presented to the OCED/French Government Local Clusters Conference, Paris, January 2001

Genoff, R and De Leeuw L Environment Industry Cluster Development. Occasional Paper Number 7, Department of Industry Science and Resources, Emerging Industries Section, 2001

Newman, P Sustainability and Australian Cities, Australian Planner, Vol 36 No 2, 1999

OECD DAC Guidelines: Strategies for Sustainable Development (Executive Summary)

OECD Devolution and Globalisation, Paris 2001

OECD Local Partnerships for Better Governance, Paris 2001

Sprenger, R ADAPT. Inter-firm Networks and Regional Networks. Opportunities for Employment and Environmental Protection, Federal Labour Office Bonn, for the European Commission, 2001

About the authors

Cate Atkinson has been involved in planning for 20 years and now specialises in project management and strategic planning for the City of Playford. She developed the Council’s Environment Position Paper and Management Plan, manages the Greenhouse Action Plans (both Corporate and Community) and is involved in a wide range of strategic and policy projects for the Council. She leads a diverse team of project officers dealing with development, environmental issues, policy and environmental health.

Rodin Genoff is employed as the City of Playford’s Industry Strategist. He also does specialist consulting on industry clustering and lecturing at the School of International Business. Rodin has edited two books on industry policy and recently prepared BV2010’s background research on the Environment Cluster for the Federal Department of Industry Trade and Resources.

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