I know that the Government's moves to reform the planning system caused some concern locally.  It's not surprising that in such a beautiful county people should be anxious - as I am - to protect the countryside.

I think the principle of sweeping away the top-down housing targets and returning power to local communities is the right one.

But some feared that streamlining planning guidelines might put the countryside at risk.

There were particular concerns about the "presumption in favour of sustainable development", and that local councils would not have time to put a plan in place to prevent speculative applications by developers.

The final National Policy Planning Framework was published on Tuesday and I am pleased that the redrafted document puts those fears to rest.

The Chief Executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England said it was "a good day for those who value the character of our towns, cities and countryside" and the Director-General of the National Trust said that the changes "improve the document and give it a better tone and balance."

The new policy has three fundamental objectives: to put power over planning into the hands of communities; to help create the homes and jobs the country needs; and to protect and enhance our natural and historic environment.

It acknowledges that "sustainable development" embraces social, environmental and economic objectives, and that none of these can be pursued in isolation of the others.

It also explicitly recognises the intrinsic value and beauty of the countryside, whether or not it is designated landscape such as the National Park; it encourages a ‘brownfield first' policy for new building, and it makes it easier for councils to stop ‘garden grabbing'.

Most importantly, the policy is clear that the Local Plan is the basis for decisions in the planning system, and it gives councils twelve months to put them in place.

The task now is for our villages to complete their plans in which all members of the community will have a say.  The new system puts local people in control.

It doesn't mean that we can, or should, say 'no' to every development.  But it does mean that communities themselves can take responsibility for getting the local balance right.

Christopher N Howarth