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Paper 5A - 29 January 1999 Meeting


29 January 1999



Report of the Environmental Co-ordinators' Group


It is recommended that:

(1) Members endorse the response to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions that the principle of 'headline' indicators should be broadly welcomed and that Officers prepare a detailed response to the consultation document.

(2) All Hampshire local authorities should be encouraged to develop a set of local sustainable development indicators reflecting local priorities as part of their Local Agenda 21 programme.


This report seeks approval for officers to finalise a joint response to the Government Consultation Paper on a set of UK 'headline' indicators of sustainable development. 'Sustainability Counts' proposes thirteen 'headline' indicators with which to monitor progress in the UK towards achieving sustainable development.


1. The Government issued a consultation document 'Opportunities for Change' in February 1998. This set out the Government's vision of sustainable development and what needs to be done to put it into practice. A response to this document was approved at the Association's meeting in May 1998.

2. The 'Opportunities for Change' consultation document promised that a limited set of 'headline' indicators would be devised to keep track of progress and to report it in a way which is clear, comprehensive and useful to a wide audience. The indicators will help both to inform policy decision and to increase understanding of what sustainable development means. The 'headline' indicators would also act to provide a basic 'executive summary' of information which will be gained from adopting the complete set of 120 detailed indicators for the UK which was published in 1996. The Government 'headline' indicator proposal has been widely supported.

3. Taking into consideration responses to both the 'Opportunities for Change' and 'Sustainability Counts' public consultation documents, the Government intends to publish a comprehensive UK Sustainable Development Strategy later this year.


4. The 'Opportunities for Change' consultation set out four broad objectives on which the Government's vision of sustainable development is based. These are:

* maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment

* social progress which recognises the needs of everyone

* effective protection for the environment

* prudent use of natural resources

The consultation states that achieving sustainable development means addressing all of these objectives equally both now and in the future.

5. The thirteen 'headline' indicators proposed in the current 'Sustainability Counts' consultation paper ensure that the situation can be monitored for each of the four Government objectives detailed in 3.1. A copy of a table from 'Sustainability Counts' giving descriptive paragraphs for each of the four objectives and the relating proposed 'headline' indicators is given in the Annex.

6. The proposed indicators have been selected to reflect not just the key issues but also the links between them.

7. The headline indicators will need to be supported by further sets of detailed and local indicators. An additional core set of indicators for local authorities to use in relation to their Local Agenda 21 programmes is also being developed by the Central Local Information Partnership (CLIP). This partnership includes Department of the Transport, Environment and the Regions, the Local Government Management Board, the Local Government Association, and the Audit Commission.

8. The indicators have been selected to satisfy a number of criteria. They should be scientifically sound, sensitive to change, measurable and capable of regular updating. Indicators have been chosen which largely can be reported as from now, that is information is readily available or can be easily obtained.


9. Whilst there is still some concern about the number of different sets of indicators, and how they relate to one another, the Government has proposed a set of headline indicators that clearly reflect the broad aims of sustainable development. The indicators relate to issues which members of the public will generally understand or are concerned about.

10. Taken as a set, they reflect the key issues for sustainable development. It is not clear what weighting will be given by the public to each of the indicators, but obviously Gross Domestic Product is already widely recognised. It is likely to remain as the Government's primary indicator. Because GDP is a measure of growth in the economy it does not reflect progress towards sustainable development. However, if pollution and unsustainable resource depletion are taken into account in calculating GDP then its inclusion in the list would be valid.

11. The Consultation Document explains the relationship between the proposed headline indicators and specific areas of Government policy. It is less clear on how they relate to some local government policy areas. Reference is made to the work in progress on creating a core menu of local sustainable development indicators. The relationship between the sustainable development indicators and the proposals for local performance plans within Best Value regime is unclear and undeveloped. The development of sets of local sustainable development indicators in partnership with local communities should be a key part of all local authorities Local Agenda 21 processes.

12. The Government are seeking to keep the number of indicators as small as possible whilst still reflecting the major issues of sustainable development. This means that certain issues have been omitted from the proposals. In particular, an indicator for community safety does not appear. Community safety is central feature of sustainable communities and addressing this issue is currently a Government priority.

13. Local indicators should be informed by the work of the CLIP Task Force and best practice in those authorities around the country that have already developed local indicators. Local indicators must be developed in partnership with local communities to ensure that they reflect local concerns and are locally resonant.


14. It is widely recognised that sustainability indicators need to be developed and used as tools to measure the degree of progress being made towards sustainable development. The use of indicators helps inform policy decisions and prioritising and helps the community understand what sustainable development means and why it is important to them. There is a need for universally used indicators to allow comparisons between different regions of the UK but also local indicators to address those issues most important to individual communities.

15. The Government proposal to adopt 13 'headline' indicators to measure progress towards sustainable development in the UK has been given broad support to date. As the indicators need to be understood and relevant to all, the opportunity for people to comment on the proposed choice of 'headline' indicators should be welcomed.

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Environmental Co-ordinators' Group


Proposed headline indicators of sustainable development

Maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment - so that everyone can share in high living standards and greater job opportunities, and to generate the income and wealth needed to pay for essential infrastructure and future investment.

1. Economic growth Total output of the economy (gross domestic product)

2. Social investment Investment in public assets (transport, hospitals, schools etc)

3. Employment People of working age who are in work

Social progress which recognises the needs of everyone - ensuring that better health, a good education and decent housing, are available to everyone in our society, no matter who they are and where they live

4. Health Expected years of healthy life

5. Education and training Qualifications at age 19

6. Housing quality Homes judged unfit to live in

Effective protection of the environment - limiting the emissions of greenhouse gases which are causing the global climate to change, ensuring that people's health does not suffer from poor air quality or other pollution, and protecting wildlife and the countryside

7. Climate change Emissions of greenhouse gases

8. Air pollution Days of air pollution

9. Transport Road traffic

10. Water quality Rivers of good or fair quality

11. Wildlife Populations of wild birds

12. Land use New homes built on previously developed land

Prudent use of natural resources - ensuring that we use resources efficiently and minimise waste

13. Waste Waste and waste disposal

Source: "Sustainability Counts: headline indicators", DETR 1998


Last update: 21/09/2000
Author: Nick Goulder, Policy Manager

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