On Friday I attended a meeting in Petworth with town and parish councillors in my constituency.  We talked about localism and how this policy is working in practice in West Sussex.

I am a fan of neighbourhood planning as I believe this gives power to local communities to decide where development should and should not go.  It involves consulting the local community about what they want in their neighbourhood, and it gives the final say to local people through a referendum, so it is very democratic.

It still falls to district councils, or in the National Park area the Park Authority, to determine the overall amount of housing to be planned in their areas.  This is no longer set by a national or regional target but is based on an objective assessment of need.

I see the necessity of this strategic planning function, but what isn't acceptable is when developers try to subvert a neighbourhood plan, either while it is being drawn up or once it has been made. 

The Government has been very supportive of neighbourhood planning on this point, and I have succeeded in requesting that a number of developments are "called in" by ministers when it seemed that they did not accord with an emerging or made neighbourhood plan - most recently in Sayers Common and in Fontwell.

The other subject for discussion was the devolution agenda.  We have seen major devolution deals in our cities, for instance Manchester, where powers which were exercised by government in key areas of policy, such as transport, are given to local authorities.

Now there is a desire to extend this policy to shire areas too - the first ones are being announced in other parts of the country.  There could be great benefits in giving us more control over decisions that affect us in West Sussex.

But we need to work out the right shape for a local devolution deal.  West Sussex County Council favours a partnership with East Sussex and Surrey.  But many West Sussex MPs, including me, are unconvinced that this will be right for our area.

This will need to be discussed further - and any proposed new arrangement needs to command local support.

But overall the direction of travel is a good one: more power to local communities.

Alexander BlackLocalism