Sustainable Development Forum

 

Members of the SD Forum at Ranfurly Arts Centre

 

The inaugural gathering of the Local Government Sustainable Development Forum was held in March 2013, attracting an attendance representing over 90% of the 26 district councils then in operation. Attendance has rarely dropped below that figure at any of the subsequent quarterly meetings. The regular high turnout is a testament to the value accorded to the Forum by its members.

Sustainable NI services the Forum and has led its development. Its creation was in response to the requirement for councils to demonstrate their compliance with the Statutory Duty for Sustainable Development.

Only a few of our eleven councils employ officers with a specific sustainability mandate; rather, the mantle is worn by staff from a variety of disciplines – among them, energy conservation, environmental health, human resources and biodiversity. The Forum has provided an environment in which colleagues have been able to share experience and intelligence in an atmosphere of trust and mutual support. It has facilitated the provision of practical assistance and capacity-building, through tailored briefings and inspirational presentations from recognised experts.

Above all, perhaps, it has allowed its members an unprecedented opportunity to build relationships with their professional peers, find solutions to commonly experienced problems and tap into sources of expertise that are unavailable within their own councils. We have explored the implications of several elements of the reform of council responsibilities, such as the extension of urban regeneration powers and the transfer of land-use planning.

We have had Council Chief Executives address the Forum on democratic accountability and sustainable procurement. We have examined the measurement of wellbeing, the deployment of electric vehicles into council fleets and the development of community planning. Working groups have created the Forum’s terms of reference and its work-plans, a communications strategy and several practical aids, such as the Sustainability Audit Tool. The Forum helped its members to develop their responses to the NI Executive’s requests for statutory duty compliance reports.

We invited OFMDFM (Office of the First Minister & Deputy First Minister) to present its proposals and co-ordinated councils’ responses, sharing those with Forum colleagues on our members-only resource website. By any measure, the Forum has been a resounding success. It will continue to thrive, based on its members’ interactions and deepening expertise. Now, we have extended its membership to more agencies within the public sector to share the Forum’s expertise with others who are pursuing the elusive goal of sustainable development.

For more information about the Sustainable Development Forum and membership, please contact us.