Topic: LEADER and spatial justice: insights from a North of England LEADER case study
Keywords: LEADER; spatial justice; social justice; social inclusion; community development
The Horizon 2020 ReLocal project looks at the ability of community-level development projects to mitigate injustice, disadvantage and deprivation at the local and higher scales through 33 case studies across Europe (https://relocal.eu/). This paper examines the work of the LEADER local action group for the Northumberland Uplands, (or NULAG for short), over its 10 years of operation in two phases from 2008 to the present. These two phases present a vivid contrast between a balance of sustainability, social inclusion and economic development goals in the first phase, guided to a greater extent by an assessment of local context and needs; and an enforced narrowing to focus primarily on economic growth in the second phase, as a result of ministerial direction.
On closer observation this picture of a reduced contribution to spatial justice in phase 2 may be less clear-cut. There was undoubtedly greater flexibility and resource for support to disadvantaged applicants in phase 1, resulting in a scheme that was more socially inclusive and appropriate to the area’s needs. These elements were curtailed in phase 2 through top-down framing and administrative control, despite this being a period of increasing rural poverty, disadvantage and deprivation. On the positive side, however, the expansion of the NULAG territory in phase 2 and transfer of the hosting of the scheme from the Northumberland National Park Authority to the Local Authority may have enhanced the scheme’s spatial justice, not least by encouraging greater inclusion of Uplands areas beyond the Park – a particularly sparsely-populated portion of the Northumberland Uplands.
This paper considers these social and spatial justice trade-offs and the extent to which local action can mitigate spatial injustice and support territorial cohesion. Moreover, in light of the likely difficulties in maintaining momentum for rural community development in the UK post-Brexit, we invite consideration of a number of ways in which any future such scheme might be made more inclusive, accessible and beneficial to disadvantaged groups.