Absolutely. My hon. Friend will have heard my remarks about localism and neighbourhood planning. By engaging people in the planning system and letting them have a say, we will get a much more positive attitude towards development.
Members across the House have drawn attention to the danger of the Secretary of State’s planning permission powers conflicting with the Government’s localism agenda. I hope again that he will not need to use these powers regularly. Businesses, developers and applicants know which local authorities are the poor performers. Many developers have some great schemes but choose not to bring them forward because they are concerned about a particular council’s approach. They would rather put in their applications where they are more likely to get a positive response from the local authority. I draw the House’s attention to my local authority, Rugby borough council, which is a progressive council with a strong approach to development.
On an idea that is not in the Bill, I ask the Minister to turn his attention to the thoughts of the Royal Town Planning Institute. Could designation be used positively? If we are to penalise badly performing local planning authorities by taking powers away from them and giving them to the Secretary of State, could the converse not apply, whereby authorities that perform consistently well, such as my authority in Rugby, have the incentive of additional powers being granted to them? My local authority could achieve even greater things with additional powers. Rugby council knows what it can do. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s views on that.
Clause 22 deals with business rates. From my experience of running a business, I know that business rates are the third-biggest bill facing businesses. I heard with interest the Secretary of State’s remarks about the multiplier and how the take from business rates nationally will need to be the same, whether or not a revaluation takes place. I just wonder, however, whether we might be better off sticking with the five-yearly review. How will businesses in my constituency benefit from putting off the revaluation till later rather than sooner?
The Bill does not address one aspect of the development process where value could be added. It concerns the statutory consultees and their power within the planning process. In recent months, I have been struck by the power that these bodies have in the planning application process. The Government’s own statutory paper on consultees in July named 23 bodies, including British Waterways, the Forestry Commission and the Highways Agency, that are consultees to the planning system and the views of which have to be sought before applications can be granted. I referred to a great success story in my constituency—a site for 1,300 homes—but another site for 6,000 is currently being held up not because of issues of the affordable housing criteria but because of the delays in getting in all the responses from the statutory consultees. This is red tape that could be cut. I would very much like to hear the Minister’s views on limiting the time that consultees have to respond. If a statutory consultee does not get his views in within a certain time frame, perhaps those views should carry less or even no weight. This is an area in which I would like to see powers restricted.
The second rates issue that is not addressed by the Bill is empty property rates. My hon. Friend Robert Neill reminded us of the reliefs, but I am concerned that the issue of empty property rates is leading to a shortage of accommodation for our businesses. I started a business 30 years ago in very low-cost accommodation, which was surplus to the requirements of a large employer in my constituency. I would not be able to do that today because that building would have been demolished in order to avoid paying business rates on the empty building. Later in the life of my business, when we were doing well enough to move to larger premises, we moved to an industrial unit that had been built speculatively by a developer. That would not have been built today either, because nobody is building speculative industrial units for fear of them lying empty and attracting business rates. A concession on the part of the Treasury—I realise that it is a Treasury matter—in respect of empty property business rates would go some way to providing an incentive.
I support the vast majority of measures in the Bill and I look forward to the Minister’s response to the points that I have raised.