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In the House of Common yesterday the government was accused of undermining local democracy through its top-down planning policies.

Mid Worcestershire MP Peter Luff highlighted three ways in which the views of local people are being sidelined when he challenged ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government, saying:

"Last week, the Secretary of State's Department announced that it would impose more houses on the west midlands than local councils say they can cope with. It is also deciding the location of eco-towns entirely outside the planning process and, through the Planning Bill, it is removing the role of local communities almost completely from important decisions on major infrastructure projects. Does she understand that, as a result, people are feeling powerless and dangerously cynical about local democracy?"

The Minister for Housing, Yvette Cooper replied,

"I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that I simply do not agree with his characterisation of the way in which either the housing process or the planning process works. It is important that local communities are involved in deciding what kinds of homes need to be built, and where homes need to be built, in their areas."

Commenting, Peter said,

"I find the minister's response bizarre. I could have added that it's a scandal the way local councillors who express a view about the merits of a planning application are then debarred from voting on it under the government's ridiculous rules.

"The views of local communities - whether expressed through the inadequate regional assembly, thorough local councils or by individuals are simply being ignored. If people feel their views just don't count, it's a very worrying development indeed. We must make sure that people feel their views are genuinely valued.

"Local councils - the three districts of South Worcestershire and the county council - have tried hard to engage people, but the government is saying it just won't listen and will do what it wants come hell or high water.

Peter also objected to Yvette Cooper's claim that people who expressed views of this kind were against affordable housing. He said,

"Local people want more affordable housing and I want more affordable housing - but local communities know best where it should, go and how it should, be delivered - not ministers. We simply don't nee d to concrete over as much land as the government thinks in Worcestershire to get adequate numbers of homes.

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