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Local Rural Environments

Volume 517: debated on Thursday 4 November 2010

9. If she will discuss with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government proposals to extend the power of communities to protect local rural environments. (21650)

The Government are committed to reforming the current top-down planning system to give communities far greater powers to shape their neighbourhoods and share in the benefits of growth. In particular, neighbourhood plans will give communities the freedom to bring forward more development than is set out in the local authority plan, or to introduce more localised rural environmental protection policies. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will work closely with the Department for Communities and Local Government in taking that forward.

I thank the Minister. To ensure that there is public support for important renewable energy programmes, does the Minister agree that it is crucial that such projects are put in the right place, and that projects such as onshore wind farms are not put in spectacularly beautiful parts of the country where there is no local support? Will he visit my spectacular part of the country in Suffolk, to see just how beautiful it is?

I am happy to inform my hon. Friend that I will be spending Christmas in his constituency, because my in-laws live there.

The importance of renewables is known and agreed upon throughout the House, and the Government recognise the value of increasing the amount of electricity that we produce from renewable energy. However, we also recognise the genuine local concerns, which have to be included in the planning process. We are reforming the planning system so that it will give local communities more of a say. We want to get that balance right, because it has become skewed in recent years.

As part of his discussions with the DCLG, will the Minister consider transferring responsibility for the management of the rural development programme for England to local enterprise partnerships where they wish to take on that role?

The Department is currently considering the best way of handling the RDPE budget in future years, and we will certainly keep hon. Members informed.