It is a great pleasure to speak in this important Adjournment debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend Gareth Bacon on raising an important issue on behalf of his and all our constituents, as well as our colleagues and partners in local government.
If we want our country to have a planning system that is prepared for the challenges of the future, we need to keep the conversation going about how the system will work in practice. I admire my hon. Friend’s personal commitment to the issue. If I may say so, there is certainly nothing woke about this bloke, because last year he proposed several interesting changes to the enforcement regime in the private Member’s Bill to which he alluded. We have had some constructive conversations about those changes, and I look forward to further such conversations to determine what we can take forward together. This matter may not generate as huge a number of column inches as other touchstone issues of our day, but I assure the House and my hon. Friend that the Government share his interest in and commitment to improving planning enforcement in this country.
I also share the interest shown by my right hon. Friend Chris Grayling, and I am concerned by the ongoing issue he faces. He will appreciate that I should not say too much more about it because of my quasi-judicial role, but I am certainly happy to discuss his worries about inter-departmental connectivity—let us call it that—and how agencies work together to effect appropriate planning decisions. He will know that we propose to bring forward planning reform, and I will certainly talk to my colleagues at DEFRA and engage him in those conversations. He is a distinguished Member of this House with a distinguished ministerial career, and in his 21 years here he has been a doughty campaigner on his constituents’ behalf. He has demonstrated that again this afternoon.
It goes without saying that the overwhelming majority of people across the country will need to engage with our planning system only when they are looking for planning permission prior to any works they may want done. While a small number of works will inevitably slip through the net, with people accidentally undertaking work without realising it requires planning permission—most people, as my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington rightly said, want to play by the rules—some will try to bend the rules to their will by gambling that planning permission will be granted retrospectively.
That gamble should never be allowed to pay off. It shows contempt for the rules that hold the system together, and it is unacceptable to every person who approaches the planning regime with good faith. When the system is gamed, local authorities have an array of powers—my hon. Friend alluded to some of them—in their enforcement arsenal, including strong financial penalties for non-compliance. Councils can step in to suspend works on a site so that proper investigation can take place. Again, if an individual or companies try to subvert that process, they can find themselves facing an unlimited fine for non-compliance.