Over 1,500 assets of community value have now been identified and listed, and over 1,200 communities have taken their first steps towards producing a neighbourhood plan for their area. There has been overwhelming support in the 34 local referendums held so far, and that means that roughly 5.2 million people are now covered by a neighbourhood planning area.
May I take this opportunity to praise the residents of Warton in my constituency who recently submitted a comprehensive neighbourhood plan in line with the Government’s aspiration for community engagement? Does my hon. Friend agree that neighbourhood plans should be given full consideration by local councils at the earliest opportunity?
I congratulate my hon. Friend’s community on going forward with a neighbourhood plan. He is absolutely right. Local authorities should move forward to get them to the referendum stage as quickly as possible—the average at the moment is just two months. I hope that his community will benefit from that as well.
Neighbourhood planning and community rights are clearly welcome, so will the Minister give advice to a community that cannot exercise them because the people who are planning to build 3,000 houses on their doorstep are in the neighbouring local authority area?
The hon. Gentleman highlights an issue for local authorities, and Labour’s plans, which would allow councils to build on other councils’ land, would create that very problem. That is why we have the duty to co-operate and planning inspectors look very carefully at how it is exercised. I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the issue.
Recent research by planning consultancy Turley shows that areas of below average income have so far been less involved in the neighbourhood planning process, with just nine plans published in areas categorised as most deprived. What do the Government intend to do to ensure that more disadvantaged communities can participate in this process and that it does not become the preserve of the affluent few?
All communities should be looking to undertake neighbourhood planning. I visited Southwark last week to see the excellent work being done there. A wide range of more than 1,250 areas are undertaking neighbourhood planning. Obviously, a few are ahead of the others and there have been 34 referendums. We have put in more money and are funding local areas that undertake neighbourhood planning and the local authorities to support them. I encourage all areas and communities to consider undertaking a neighbourhood plan.