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By Mark Smulian ...
By Mark Smulian

The Audit Commission should investigate how far councils have put sustainability at the heart of their regeneration work, a government watchdog has said.

The Sustainable Development Commission, set up to advise ministers on the issue, complained in a report this week that sustainable regeneration projects are patchy, outside the mainstream of good practice, and lack a public profile.

Its chair, leading environmental campaigner Jonathon Porrit, said: 'There's lots of good practice out there, but it's not being mainstreamed - that's the process government must now drive forward to ensure genuinely sustainable regeneration.'

His report calls on Whitehall departments, and the devolved administrations, to review their regeneration strategies and publish action plans by next June.

Local government audit bodies across the UK should 'further their interest in sustainable development by reflecting these conclusions,' it said.

The report argues that just as economic regeneration programmes have begun to involve education and health departments, so their remit should now extend to include environmental issues.

'The precedent of joined-up government is already established. Mainstreaming the involvement of environment departments and agencies should be the next step,' the commission urges.

It also calls on councils to use planning powers to compel developers to use sustainable building designs and materials.

'Sustainable housing projects tend to be one-off examples of good practice,' rather than treated as standard for developments, it adds.

The commission spent 18 months investigating how neighbourhood regeneration could cover a great number of environmental objectives.

Environmental benefits were often regarded as a by-product of regeneration work, rather than a deliberate outcome, the commission found.

Its research yielded no examples of a regeneration project set up to tackle pollution or environmental hazards, other than those that arise in the immediate area.

Nor did the commission find any local planning policies that were sufficiently long term to address climate change.

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