Shifting agendas, changing regulatory structures and the 'new' politics of environmental pollution: British coastal water policy, 1955-1995

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Policies in areas or subsystems which are dominated by well-established policy communities tend to stability. However, policies that have firm political support and a solid ideological underpinning are occasionally subject to marked and wholesale shifts which then stabilize around a new equilibrium position. This article examines one such discontinuity in policy: British coastal water policy between the 1950s and the 1990s. Once the concern of engineers and local authority interests, the question of how to deal with the sewage generated by coastal communities is now deeply contested between a wide variety of different actors including environmental groups and European authorities. What was once a relatively well-managed, professionalized policy community has become unstable as new ideas and domestic regulatory structures have forced the government to justify principles and practices that were implicit or simply rhetorical. This empirical example of what Weale has termed the 'new' politics of pollution, is tested against models of social learning developed by Paul Sabatier and Peter Hall, both of which lay great stress on the importance of changing ideas and beliefs as the main 'motor' of policy change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)669-694
Number of pages26
JournalPublic Administration
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1998


  • coastal waters
  • sewage disposal
  • water pollution

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