In nearly all cases, it is for local authorities to take the final decision on a local plan. In the past two years, 50 local plans were deemed sound by planning inspectors, and one by the Ministry itself.
Yes, but let us look at this consultation from last week. According to the Government, neighbourhood plans can be overturned by local councils above them, and—above them—local council plans can be overturned by the Secretary of State and his faceless bureaucrats. What is wrong in this country with freedom and democracy, with local people making the decisions effectively, fairly and democratically? Is this Joe Stalin or English democracy that this Government are forcing upon us?
For all that thunder and lightning, we are investing £23 million to support neighbourhood planning groups. I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that 94% of councils have published local plans, compared with 32% when Labour left office. The previous Labour Government wantonly failed to deliver on encouraging the take-up of local plans, where this Government have succeeded.
Talking of planning ahead, two councils in Somerset—Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset Council—are waiting to form a single council. They have already had major savings by sharing services jointly, but they now really need to know if they can form one authority. Will my hon. Friend update me on the progress of this process?
The issue is under imminent review. The Secretary of State is giving it his personal attention and a decision will be taken shortly.
Last week I attended a meeting of the Eaton Park residents association as part of the consultation on Stoke-on-Trent’s joint local plan. They are aghast at proposals to use the greenfield site of Berryhill Fields, while brownfield sites are left unlooked at. When it comes to looking for new housing development sites, what can the Minister say to ensure that those residents know that brownfield sites will always be chosen over greenfield sites?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We have reinforced the focus on brownfield first, plus things like looking for extra density where it can be provided, through the national planning policy framework. I look forward to his supportive comments during the consultation.