GOVERNMENT changes in planning law will increase democracy at grassroots level, according to West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin.

Mr Letwin said the introduction of neighbourhood plans would re-engage local people in the planning process.

He was speaking about the subject at a meeting organised by the West Dorset group of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

Mr Letwin said: “If you put forward a plan for a new home and it complies with the neighbourhood plan, it should be approved in a matter of ten minutes in the future.

“Equally, if it does not fit in with what the plan outlines, it will be equally speedily rejected.”

Mr Letwin cited Cerne Valley and Puddletown as examples where the process was already underway.

He said: “At parish level, people do care intensely. Across Britain, there are now 900 areas involved in preparing neighbourhood plans and this is where I place my faith in the future.

“These plans are meaningful and they can work.”

He added: “It’s astonishing but true that we are now re-empowering people to have a say in their future where they live through neighbourhood plans.”

At the same meeting, Mr Letwin took a number of questions from the audience on other topics.

He defended young people by suggesting they were generally among the most committed to the protection of the environment.

He also argued for a ‘mixed economy’ of energy supply in the future.

Whilst renewable energy would be important, Mr Letwin added that it wouldn’t be the only solution to meeting future energy needs.

Other speakers at the meeting raised concerns about farmland and redundant farm buildings being converted into housing.

They argued that more and more farmland was being taken out of production because it was more profitable to sell the land for housing.

Nearly 50 people attended the annual meeting at Stratton village hall, which also saw Reg Hanbury re-elected chairman of the group.