To make devolution work, what Yorkshire needs is a common enemy

Communities secretary Sajid Javid. Image: Getty.

About 30 years ago the comedian Nick Reville had a comedy routine about Yorkshire people. It went something like this.

The locals were enjoying a pint down their pub in Castleford last Friday night. Everything is fine until a group of lads from the pub across the road walked in. The regulars didn’t like this, and after a few words a fight started.

It was getting serious until the door opened. Everyone froze: another group had arrived. These blokes were from a pub on the next street. Perceiving a new threat, they suddenly realised that they were from the same street, joined forces and took the fight to the outsiders.

Ten minutes later with the scrap in full swing the doors open again. A group from Pontefract walk in. The “they aren’t from round here” mentality kicks in, unifies the crowd and they set on the Ponte lads. 

As things are getting out of hand another group walks in.

“Where are you t**ts from?”

“Leeds, what it’s to you?”

The Cass and Ponte thugs join forces against the big city t**ts.


And so on, through Manchester, London, France, USA until finally some Aliens arrive and the Friday night drinkers of the earth unite in a pub in Castleford for a bar fight with the outsiders.

It was a very funny routine, it’ll be online somewhere.

A couple of weeks back, this came back to mind as the Yorkshire Devo deals hotted up.

I’ve not followed the ins and out of the Yorkshire devolution close enough give a detailed description. There are many different options moving on and off the table. Leeds City Region (LCR), Sheffield City Region (SCR), Greater Yorkshire and One Yorkshire.  Greater Yorkshire appears to be North, East and West Yorkshire lumping together without South Yorkshire. SCR will be its own devo deal. One Yorkshire is everybody in together.

According to James Read of the Yorkshire Post, two councils support SCR (Sheffield and Rotherham), 16 support One Yorkshire, one wants Greater Yorkshire (Harrogate) and Wakefield is undeclared.

The usual Yorkshire in fighting, you could say – or as David Cameron infamously said. The reason why the old comedy routine came to mind is because it offers a solution.

In the pub, it was always the outsider that created the threat that achieved the improbable unity. What Yorkshire needs is an outsider to walk through the door and cause the Yorkshire councils to fight a common enemy.

Helpfully, Sajid Javid did just that. The communities secretary recently wrote a letter to Yorkshire MPs letting them know how he wanted things to pan out.

Yorkshires response should be:

“Where are you from? Westminster? What do you think you’re doing round here? Come on lads, get him!”

 
 
 
 

What is to be done? Some modest suggestions on solving the NIMBY problem

Lovely, lovely houses. Image: Getty.

The thing about NIMBYism, right, is that there’s no downside to it. If you already own a decent size house, then the fact a city isn’t building enough homes to go round is probably no skin off your nose. Quite the opposite, in fact: you’ll actively benefit from higher house prices.

So it’s little wonder that campaigning against property development is a popular leisure activity among those looking forward to a long retirement (don’t Google it, it’ll only depress you). It’s sociable, it’s profitable, it only takes a few hours a week, and, best of all, it makes you feel righteous, like you’re doing something good. In those circumstances, who wouldn’t be a NIMBY?

To fight the scourge of NIMBYism, then, what we need to do is to rebalance the risks and rewards that its participants face. By increasing the costs of opposing new housebuilding, we can make sure that people only do it when said development is genuinely a horror worth fighting – rather than, say, something less than perfect that pops up a Tuesday afternoon when they don’t have much else on.

Here are some reasonable and sensible ideas for policies to make that happen.

A NIMBY licence, priced at, say, £150 a month. Anyone found practicing NIMBYism without a licence faces a fine of £5,000. Excellent revenue raiser for the Treasury.

Prison sentences for NIMBYs. Not all of them, obviously – we’re not barbarians – but if the planning process concludes that a development will be good for the community, then those who tried to prevent it should be seen as anti-social elements and treated accordingly.

A NIMBY lottery. All homeowners wishing to oppose a new development must enter their details into an official government lottery scheme. If their number comes up, then their house gets CPOed and redeveloped as flats. Turns NIMBYism into a form of Russian roulette, but with compulsory purchase orders instead of bullets.

This one is actually a huge range of different policies depending on what you make the odds. At one end of the scale, losing your house is pretty unlikely: you’d think twice, but you’re probably fine. At the other, basically everyone who opposes a scheme will lose their entire worldly wealth the moment it gets planning approval, so you’d have to be very, very sure it was bad before you even thought about sticking your head above the parapet. So the question is: do you feel lucky?


NIMBY shaming. There are tribal cultures where, when a member does something terrible, they never see them again. Never talk to them, never look at them, never acknowledge them in any way. To the tribe, this person is dead.

I’m just saying, it’s an option.

A NIMBY-specific bedroom tax. Oppose new housing development to your heart’s content, but be prepared to pay for any space you don’t need. I can’t think of any jokes here, now I’ve written it down I think this one’s genuinely quite sensible.

Capital punishment for NIMBYs. This one’s a bit on the extreme side, so to keep things reasonable it would only apply to those NIMBYs who believe in capital punishment for other sorts of crime. Fair’s far.

Pushing snails through their letter boxes. This probably won’t stop them, but it’d make me feel better. The snails, not so much.

Reformed property taxes, which tax increases in house prices, so discourage homeowners from treating them as effectively free money.

Sorry, I’m just being silly now, aren’t I?

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason.

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