As we know, local communities help to shape the identity of local places, and it is right that they should be at the heart of our planning reforms. I can tell my hon. Friend that public engagement through consultations is already required for new housing developments and in any preparation for local plans by councils. We consider plans for the future as a priority to ensure local people have a voice that is integrated much more effectively into the planning process.
I welcome the Minister’s response on how we are making the system more responsive to local residents, but what steps will he take to ensure that residents have more of a say over the influence of developer contributions to local communities such as mine in Wolverhampton?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Developer contributions, provided by developers to local authorities in order to undertake important infrastructure works, can often be slow to arrive, if they arrive at all, and they are often not what was expected in the first place. We want to put more power in the hands of local authorities and local communities, and not developers. That is one of the reasons why our infrastructure levy, which is under development, will provide greater transparency and greater certainty for communities about the important infrastructure that they will get.
I think there is a desire across the House for a planning system that gets homes built but also recognises the democratic rights of local residents. Looking at the Minister’s planning reforms, may I suggest that he drops his zonal proposals, which are really quite bureaucratic and time consuming, and looks instead to simplify the local plan system, allows for more residents to contribute and be involved in it, and brings in his digital proposals, which have been generally accepted? Once a local plan is in place and an individual application comes in, should there not be a presumption that that application will be accepted where it is in agreement with the local plan, subject to any remaining concerns from residents being taken into account and listened to as part of the consideration of the application?
I am grateful to the Chairman of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, who makes some important and powerful points. He is right that we need to have more people engaged in the planning system. He will know that presently, about 1% of the local community engages in local plan making; that is, as near as damn it, local planners and their blood relations. That rises to as much as 2% or 3% of the local community engaging in individual local planning applications. We want to make sure that we have an engaging process and that we use digitisation to help us with that, and we will consider his proposals as we move forward with our important planning reforms.