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Volume 530: debated on Monday 20 June 2011

15. What steps he is taking to enhance the role of neighbourhoods and town and parish councils in local planning. (60288)

The Localism Bill gives every community the right to have a neighbourhood plan, and town and parish councils will have a leading role in bringing the plans together. The National Association of Local Councils, which is the umbrella body for town and parish councils, is one of five organisations funded to provide assistance to neighbourhoods in drawing up their plans.

I thank the Minister for that answer, and on behalf of the 110 villages and four towns in Mid Norfolk I thank him for giving them the opportunity to take control of their own housing policy after a decade in which housing policy was something done to them by unelected Labour quangos. Can he reassure the town councils in my constituency that where a district council, for good reason, is seeking to complete a local development framework in an area with very high speculative pressure from developers, there will be some scope for town councils to put in place their own plan for their town, such that housing that has been provided for can be delivered in a way that will boost the identity of that town and its sense of itself?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As he will know, the parish council in Attleborough, in his constituency, is already drawing up a neighbourhood plan, so that plan can have statutory force as soon as the provisions of the Localism Bill come into effect. I encourage other councils throughout the country to join the more than 90 parishes and neighbourhoods that are drawing up neighbourhood plans, even in advance of the Bill’s provisions coming into law.

The Minister will know that I do not share his optimism about the effectiveness of his planning process proposals in engaging people. How will relaxing the planning rules on converting offices into homes give more powers to neighbourhoods and communities?

Having debated these matters with the hon. Lady in the Localism Bill Committee, I would have thought she would be the first to recognise the need to turn derelict buildings that are not being used into housing that can be used for people in city centres. I am surprised at her attitude. However, I can update her. I know that she expressed some scepticism about the idea that people would be enthusiastic about this, but I have to tell her that since the Bill Committee, we have been vastly oversubscribed by enthusiastic councils in all areas of the country that are eager to get on with neighbourhood planning. That has surpassed our expectations and bodes pretty well for the take-up of the rights.

The Government’s natural environment White Paper proposes a new designation of green areas to be identified in neighbourhood plans. However, those plans must remain in line with the local authority’s strategic vision for its area. How does the Minister propose that neighbourhood plans could safeguard green areas of land identified for development in existing local development frameworks?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. Our hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) proposed the designation in the first place. Hon. Members will see in the national planning policy framework that we will capture a definition that will allow the people who know green spaces best—those who live with them—to provide them with the protection for which they have been looking for some time.