LAST year, the Conservatives proposed a reform of the planning system in which there would be designated “growth zones” where development would be automatically waived through despite what local people thought.

This generated much dismay among Conservative voters and has been dropped by Michael Gove, who is now the secretary of state for practically everything no other minister wants to do. Instead, Mr Gove, in curious media performances, outlined how local people would draw up their own “design codes” and could even have “street votes” on a neighbour’s plan for an extension. He has even suggested that that a two-thirds “supermajority” against a development would stop it from happening.

Greater local involvement and democracy is always to be welcomed. Well, nearly always.

Surely design codes should be drawn up by experts in consultation with local people, and street votes sound like a recipe for neighbourly conflict – if someone has an irritatingly yappy dog, you may see denying them a conservatory as an easy way of getting back at them.

We are, if we are honest, all nimbies at heart – no one really wants more houses in their neck of the woods, even if they accept the national need for them.

People only accept developments if they feel that their views have been balanced against the national criteria, and at the moment they see powerful developers, with deep pockets, able to push their way through the planning process without listening to local comments. Once the houses are built, they see the developers walk away with big profits but no concern for the state of the infrastructure – the overcrowded schools, GPs’ surgeries and roads – that they leave behind.

Better than local votes, we need a more rigorous system that is prepared to champion local views.