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Volume 587: debated on Monday 10 November 2014

This Government have abolished Labour’s unelected regional assemblies and devolved power down to local people. We have given more power to councils over planning, housing, licensing and public health. Some 70% of all local authorities’ income is now raised locally.

Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Worth, a village in my constituency, which has just had 92% acceptance of its neighbourhood plan? Does he agree that the additional money that has been secured for neighbourhood planning will help other towns in my constituency to deliver that empowerment to the people on the ground?

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the residents of Worth. She is absolutely right that the additional £23 million that has been announced will help and encourage many more communities across England to start neighbourhood planning and to take control of future developments in their area. Nearly 10% of the population of England is now covered by a neighbourhood plan.

Is the Secretary of State aware that localism is not much help when the most important project in Coventry, the Gateway project, is called in and then the decision is delayed? An answer was expected in December, but it has been delayed to January and then to the end of January. Will he tell us when he will make a decision?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we do not call in many applications for consideration. Last year, we called in only about eight. The one he has mentioned has some degree of complexity, and he will understand that I cannot comment about the individual application until all the facts are before me.

I strongly support the Minister’s excellent work in devolving powers to our city regions. Will he assure us that our counties and rural areas such as those in east Hertfordshire will have the same opportunity for these new responsibilities?

Such areas most certainly do have the same opportunity. The devolution of responsibilities and powers to cities has been an important step forward for localism. I should like to see counties, perhaps adjoining counties, and district councils coming together with a united case, because it was that unity of purpose, which was presented to us in various deliberations, that made it easier for us to take powers out of central Government. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be at the forefront in encouraging his local councils to do exactly that.

Last Thursday, I held an Adjournment debate on works that had been carried out by Sainsbury’s in Belgrave and Leicester, which was efficiently answered by the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt). When will local communities be given the powers to hold developers to account not just for planning applications but when works are being executed, because great delays are being caused by this company?

My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), who is very junior and new to the job, has just briefed me on the situation. As the right hon. Gentleman will understand, the local authority should exercise the powers that it already has in these matters. There is not much point in calling for new powers if the existing ones are not used.

While I agree that the devolution of powers to local authorities can be a good thing, does my right hon. Friend agree that local people should always be consulted before there are any changes to their system of local government?

Certainly. When new things are to be brought in, I think that it is appropriate to have a consultation and, in some cases, a referendum. The most important thing about localism is that it is about passing powers not only to councils, but to local communities.

In my constituency we are currently campaigning against a planning application for a new drive-through McDonald’s. I hope that it will be rejected on the normal planning grounds of noise, pollution and so on, but does the Minister think that the local community should also be able to reject such applications when they are very close to local schools?

Of course, it is very important in that kind of discussion to have a local plan in place, and one would expect a local council to be helpful to the community, and to developers, by setting out clearly where particular developments should take place. I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me; obviously we will consider that fairly and openly if it comes to us, because the applicant is entitled to justice.