The European Union (EU) Rural Development Regulations (RDR) provide the blueprint for EU rural development policy. A major change with the 2007–2013 funding period has been the decision to mainstream the LEADER programme as a cross-cutting axis for the local delivery of rural development. Delivery of the RDR in England (via the Rural Development Plan for England) has been devolved to the regions, and in the north-west there has been further sub-regional devolution. In Cumbria, where there is a history of successful LEADER programmes, a core group of stakeholders took the decision at an early stage to develop a proposal to deliver the whole of RDR Axes 1 and 3 funding via a mainstreamed LEADER approach. This article tracks the process of developing local action group proposals in Cumbria, and uses interpretive phenomenological analysis to explore the evolution of a local governance mechanism and provides a commentary on the tensions among mainstreaming, participation and innovation.