PLANNING is suddenly a big issue following the Conservatives’ shock by-election defeat in Amersham and Chesham, and it is being seen as a north/south question, whereby northern constituencies want loads of new houses and southern ones want development tightly controlled.

This is not true. People in many towns and once-villages in our area, from Stokesley and Yarm through to Middleton St George, feel their communities have been irrevocably changed by rampant house-building and Staindrop and Gainford, due to grow by 10 per cent, now fear the same.

People do care about their local environments, and the biggest worry about the Government’s planning reforms is the removal of people’s right to be involved in the process. Once an area has been designated a “growth zone”, developers will be able to crack on without submitting each plan for approval and comment.

Rather than creating a free-for-all across a wide area, the Government must find a way of specifically targeting brownfield sites and town centre edges for redevelopment.

And it cannot do anything to shut out residents’ voices, even if it does speed up the process and so get homes built quickly.

People already feel the planning system is rigged in the developers’ favour. Shutting down debate will only enhance that feeling and cause discontent – even in the newly blue red wall.