By signing the Agenda 21 declaration from the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, the UK government committed itself to the preparation of a national sustainable development plan. To facilitate this process, Chapter 28 of Agenda 21 envisages significant local-authority-led action for sustainable development at the local level (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), 1992). Termed Local Agenda 21 (LA21) plans, these rely heavily on active citizen participation and empowerment, thereby challenging the established orthodoxy of top-down down models of citizen participation and planning. The theory and the rhetoric suggest that LA21 has the potential to bring about substantive change to current environmental, economic and social systems. However, does LA21 deliver in practice, and what kind of change, if any, is effected to attain the elusive goal of sustainable development? This paper addresses these concerns with reference to recent research carried out in Powys and Ceredigion County Councils in rural Wales (Figure 1). Both are unitary authorities following local government reorganisation in Wales in 1996. By examining survey data, minutes of meetings and reports, as well as employing participant observation techniques, this research documents and contrasts the philosophy, approach and potential of the LA21 programmes.