I appreciate the many people feel strongly about this issue and rightly so. At the heart of planning are the very homes we live in, the schools our children go to, the hospital we visit and the roads that take us there. That is why reforming the way our outdated and bureaucratic planning system works is so important, because it is not currently delivering for the people that use it or the communities that want beautiful homes to live in.
I am encouraged that the Planning for the Future consultation aims to improve community engagement by emphasising it in the local plan-making stage. Local plans should be fully digitised and web-based and follow clear standards. I am aware that some early pilots from local planning authorities using digital engagement tools have shown increased public participation, which I hope can be replicated as well in our planning system. By requiring a high degree of engagement in creating local plans, it will democratise these plans that then set clear rules for development and allow greater focus to be placed on design quality at the local level.
The Government committed to updating the standard method for assessing housing need earlier this year at the Budget. The consultation proposals seek to ensure that the country can deliver on the target of 300,000 homes a year, allowing future generations to have homes of their own. It is important to mention that the new standard method is used to calculate housing need in an area, not the ultimate housing target which is decided when local councils have taken into account land constraints, such as protecting the Green Belt. I have been assured that the Government welcomes responses to the consultation and will reflect on feedback received.
When the economy slows, it is too often small businesses that are hit the hardest. I understand that the proposal to temporarily raise the site threshold to 40 or 50 for requiring affordable housing contributions is designed to boost the housing market and aid small and medium-sized developers. Importantly, the Government has proposed to maintain the existing threshold for designated rural areas, which tend to have a larger share of affordable housing supply anyway. I can assure you that my ministerial colleagues are committed to delivering more affordable homes. In fact, the Spring Budget announced £12.2 billion in investment toward the Affordable Homes programmes, the largest investment in affordable housing in a decade.
You are absolutely right that green spaces, parks and our natural heritage need to be protected. The importance of such beautiful spaces should never be underestimated. I am glad that the consultation makes explicit that the reforms should provide more green spaces, not fewer. I believe this is why the reforms aim to put in place clear locally decided rules that say what can go where, and what communities want protected.