Under provisions in the Localism Bill, parish councils and new neighbourhood forums will be able to create a new statutory local-level tier in the planning system.
The statutory neighbourhood plans and neighbourhood development orders in the bill would require local people's support in a referendum before they could come into effect.
But communities minister Baroness Hanham told peers this week: "I want to make it clear that local authorities can use existing planning mechanisms to take forward planning proposals that a neighbourhood forum or parish council has produced without needing to hold a referendum."
Hanham said that draft neighbourhood plan policies "can be taken forward by the local authority as a development plan document", while the "permissions in the neighbourhood development order can be taken forward as a local development order". Neither would be subject to a referendum, she said.
The minister was speaking during the third reading of the Localism Bill, in response to an amendment tabled by crossbench peer Lord Best. The change was sponsored by the Local Government Association, which has said that Whitehall should not force neighbourhoods to hold referendums if there is no local desire.
Tony Burton, director at charity Civic Voice, said the minister's statement was a "helpful" clarification. He said: "We've ended up in the right place where all mechanisms are available to us."
Jeff Bishop, lead consultant at the Localism Network, said the statement was a "big move forward".
See feature, p20.