Since April 2012, we have provided £48.5 million to help communities understand and access community rights and associated initiatives. This has funded a helpline, online tools and resources, and specialist support and grants. From next year we are investing a further £32 million to help communities take up the rights.
Neighbourhood forums in my constituency are engaging with the planning process and developing considered and well-researched neighbourhood plans, but their complaint is that they are not statutory consultees on planning applications that affect their area. Will the Department look at this?
Our guidance is clear. Where there is an emerging neighbourhood plan and the local authority—Leeds in the hon. Gentleman’s case—does not have a local plan, it should take account of the emerging issues in the neighbourhood plan in designated areas, such as Aireborough in his constituency.
Developers Gladman have won, on appeal, the right to build 250 houses on a greenfield site at Middleton St George in my constituency, at a time when the local residents are developing a neighbourhood plan. The development is against the wishes of local people and Darlington borough council. Local people feel that their views are being ignored and have called into question the Department’s commitment to localism. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the consequences of the housing development and Middleton St George’s neighbourhood plan?
I obviously will not comment on the individual application, but both the planning Minister and I often meet neighbourhood planning groups that are frustrated by the behaviour of some housing companies where there is an emerging neighbourhood plan. I would be delighted to meet him to discuss his issues too.
Does my hon. Friend recognise that one of the difficulties in persuading local communities to engage with neighbourhood planning is the huge amount of effort invested in the past in producing parish plans and village design statements that were then completely ignored by both local planners and the planning inspectorate? Will he reassure me that neighbourhood planning now really means something?
I visit many of the neighbourhood plans around the country, and I actually think that they have been an excellent innovation by the Government. They get people involved in planning at a neighbourhood plan level, and they now have weight within the planning system, which is the difference from before. The plans are also endorsed by a referendum of the public, which shows real enthusiasm for involvement in shaping their communities.