Many environmental assets are managed with a limited focus, neglecting more socially sustainable approaches. A broader debate on the commons must take place.
Many environmental assets are managed with a limited focus on protection, conservation, heritage value, leisure and public access. As a result many public, private and charitable asset owners manage their activities for the perceived benefit of the asset, rather than managing the asset to bring about the broadest possible range of social, economic and environmental benefits. Commercial aspects of the operation are often developed in order to provide a source of income to support these aims, but may be seen to conflict with the ‘primary’ conservation focus. At best this approach protects the asset but leads to a disconnection between the public and their local environment. At worst it can turn the asset into an unsustainable liability.
In the case of commercial owners of large environmental assets, such as utilities companies, the land and other environmental assets they own are often subsidiary to the utility infrastructure and to the primary purpose of the organisation.
In all of these cases, current approaches result in under management of our natural resources, increasing the costs of managing and maintaining them, and creating unnecessary barriers to communities who wish to develop sustainable ways of meeting their environmental, social and economic needs.
We will be working with asset owners and local communities in order to help them negotiate leases or management agreements that will protect and enhance the asset, deliver cost savings to the asset owner and create jobs, training and other social benefits for the community. We will also ensure that joint management processes are able to attract the necessary financing and expertise to enable their success.
We will draw on the work of Elinor Ostrom, the Nobel Economics Laureate who sadly died on 12 June 2012. Ostrom was a champion of commons approaches. Her work showed that shared management need not result in over exploitation of a common resource. Indeed she cautioned against single bodies trying to manage complex environmental assets where there are a large number of different stakeholders, believing that ‘one size fits all’ management was inappropriate for diverse ecologies and different localities. Her proposal was that key management decisions should be made as close to the scene of events and the actors involved as possible.
Ostrom proposed a clear set of principles for the management of commons resources which included; clearly defining boundaries, rules for use of the resources that are adapted to local conditions, collectively agreed, accountably monitored and appropriately enforced, accessible conflict resolution and local self determination.
We are also informed by the work of James Quilligan, an advocate of commons based economics, who suggests that ‘commons’ are both the resources themselves and the social relationships developed by the people who preserve, produce, manage, access and use them.
These ideas and principles point to a need for more locally driven shared management of environmental assets, especially where these are owned by a single large land owners, whether they be in the private, public or charitable sector.
We will draw on these ideas, and others, in order to lead and support the development of new, shared, approaches to the management of environmental assets that enhance the quality of the asset, reduce costs and maximise the delivery of sustainable public benefit.
In doing so we aim to contribute to the creation of a new conception of the commons, based upon a presumption in favour of community use of environmental assets and the development of sustainable local economies.