The search for rational ways of making land-use decisions – traditionally afforded an important status in the planning process (Breheny and Hooper 1985; Thomas 1994) – has interacted with the rising profile of sustainability in interesting and significant ways. In a message that resonated with planning policy communities, both the Brundtland Report and Agenda 21 emphasised ‘assessing performance’ in relation to sustainable development (Hodge and Hardi 1997: 1). Governments and public agencies have shown keen interest in techniques for measuring sustainability, evaluating policies and monitoring progress; many academics have responded with enthusiasm. The result has been a plethora of methodologies, techniques and procedures, often conceived of as a ‘toolbox’ for implementing sustainable development. These include new approaches as well as developments of established ones – assessment techniques, indicators, audits of various kinds, ‘footprint’ studies, ecological accounts – all claiming to provide better information or structured evaluation to promote more sustainable policy choices. Not everyone is impressed. Some critics fear that the essentially political challenges of sustainability are disguised by such procedures as technical matters of better management and control. They argue that rather than perpetuating ‘the worthy but increasingly unrewarding search for “objective” methodologies’, we should be seeking ‘institutional reform aimed at enriching and refining open political debate about public values’ (Grove-White 1997: 30; see also Jacobs 1997a). In practice, both technical rationality and ‘deliberative and inclusive processes’ have become growth industries, so that experimentation with a variety of novel participatory forums has proceeded in parallel with the development of an ‘audit culture’ (Grove-White 1997: 22). We
return later to the question of whether deliberation must necessarily be inclusive; for now, we note that such forums have often been brought together around statutory planning processes or non-statutory initiatives such as biodiversity action plans and Local Agenda 21.1 None of this may be sufficient, however. For many commentators, a further prerequisite of sustainable development is ‘integration’, involving changes to the ways in which policies are made and institutions operate. Integration is seen as a way of ensuring that environmental, social and economic objectives are all given due consideration, sometimes within a specific spatial framework. While this may require structural change, it is often assumed to be aided by formal assessment techniques or by deliberative participation.