LOCAL people lack the power to protect national parks such as North York Moors because of their “shoddy” democracy, a Government minister admitted.

Nick Boles told MPs the current system – where local councils nominate representatives to sit on park boards – was not up to scratch.

The planning minister vowed that new ‘neighbourhood plans’, allowing communities to draw up their own development stategies, would tackle the democratic deficit.

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But The Northern Echo can reveal that no applications have yet been made for neighbourhood plans within the North Yorks Moors National Park.

In contrast, 25 have already been designated within the boundaries of the South Downs, in Sussex and Hampshire, and three in both the Lake District and Peak District.

Two have also been designated in the Northumberland National Park and a further application made, the department for communities and local government (DCLG) said.

During a Commons debate, Mr Boles said: “I respect the view that nominations are a pretty shoddy form of representation.

“Forty-one communities within national parks are currently working on neighbourhood plans, to enable a community to draw up a plan for its own development.

“That is a profoundly democratic, grass-roots, accountable initiative and it is great news that so many communities in national parks have embraced it.

“Perhaps it reveals the frustration that people do not currently feel able to express themselves through national park planning policy and the decisions that are made.”

The comments come as controversy continues to rage over an application for a £1.5bn potash mine near Whitby, within the North Yorks Moors national park.

Sirius Minerals has argued there is a compelling case for the development, which could create 1,000 jobs and inject about £55m into the local economy, But an environmental report raised concerns over flood risks, air pollution, the impact of trucks travelling through the beauty spot, and habitat damage from a pipeline.

In July, the park authority “reluctantly” deferred a decision for a third time, following a request from the company for more time to address the environmental concerns.

After the debate, Mr Boles was accused of paving the way for more development in national parks, after saying they should not be protected “wildernesses”.

He told MPs: “These communities will only retain their appeal and retain life if they are allowed to change and to develop,”

But, later, Mr Boles insisted there had been no change of policy, adding: “National Parks are some of this country's most important national treasures and we will always protect them.”

England has ten national parks covering nearly 5,000 square miles, each run by its own authority with statutory duties to conserve the countryside and allow people to enjoy it.