As with many conferences, the most interesting time is generally spent at the fringe events picking up ideas and coming themes.
So yesterday lunchtime I attended a fascinating session on championing the green agenda. And in the afternoon, I went to a briefing on the Sustainable Communities Act 2007.
I have to confess, for a key piece of legislation, I was only dimly aware of its potential significance. A genuinely cross-party initiative, it "offers councils and communities an opportunity to put forward new thinking on how to meet the challenges of sustainability."
So what's all that about? Well, from October councils may use their citizens' panels to put forward ideas as to how services could be reformed and improved. This could be in relation to economic issues (the decline in retail diversity in the high street, for example), or to promote the social or environmental well-being of the area. Alongside the consultation, the Government will publish how public money (all public money) is spent across local areas - this is a ground-breaking initiative in itself.
The ideas for change might be on a local, regional or national level. I guess the closure of Post Offices would fit neatly here. An example given a yesterday's briefing was the management of railway stations, but it could also apply to almost anything - anywhere where local people feel their communities could be improved, including the transfer of functions from one organisation to another. In developing proposals, councils should have regard to a range of sustainability issues such as the local production of goods, local food, transport, energy use and so on.
Once all the ideas have been collected, they will be sent to the Local Government Association, which will prioritise them, and discuss them with the Secretary of State. And this will be very far from a black hole from which nothing will be heard again - the Secreatary of State is under a duty to assist. The successful proposals will then be implemented.
Councils don't have to participate in this process, but I very much hope that we in Darlington do. As well as listen to the Citizens' Panel, residents need to be involved from the start, perhaps through residents' associations, local community partnerships and parish councils. It's the start of a great debate from which local communities should emerge much stregthened.