Seven reasons NIMBYs oppose new developments

Public protests like this can be a major headache for developers. Image: Hat Trick Productions/Channel 4.

It is a well-known fact that London’s housing supply is not meeting demand. The city needs for nearly 50,000 new homes to be built every year until 2035; last year the number of new homes completed was just shy of 25,000.

There are many reasons why London’s housing market is not delivering, so let’s hone in on one of them: opposition from local residents. Across London there are scores of locally run campaigns, set up by residents who fiercely oppose plans for to development their neighbourhoods.

So why do people oppose new development in their area? The typical response is to dismiss them as “NIMBYs” – an acronym which stands for “not in my back yard” – bent on preventing change. But this overly simplistic “NIMBY” narrative isn’t helping anyone; nor is it helping London to tackle its housing crisis.

For our latest report Stopped: Why People Oppose Residential Development in their Back Yard, we interviewed residents, planners and developers. We identified seven main reasons why people oppose new developments:

Services

In a growing city where the underground, bus and rail services are already stretched, residents fear that an increase in population will put strain on local services – particularly roads, public transport and healthcare.

One leader of an outer London borough told us: “I already have people who can’t get on the train at 6.30 in the morning going into London. Their view is: if I build more housing, how the hell are they gonna get to work in the morning?”

Trust

The complexity of the planning system, and the vulnerability of development to the economic cycle, has led to a decline in trust between residents, developers and local authorities. This makes communication and negotiation between the three groups more difficult.

As one developer put it: “If there’s a policy, people don’t understand why local authorities don’t stick to it… That’s why communities are as angry with their local authorities as they are with us.”

Put simply, many Londoners simply do not believe that the local authority will act in the interest of residents.

Outsiders

Social psychology has long suggested that people identify with their own group and will take action if its identity is threatened by outsiders. Our research suggests that objections to new housing are sometimes as much about new residents as about the houses they will live in.

Locals fear that incomers will dilute the existing sense of community; “These yuppies breed like rats,” as one resident put it.


Place

Residents’ objections are often rooted in the fear that new development will change the character or identity of the place they call home, or will simply be of too‑poor quality. That’s because people come to have close connections with the area in which they live. In the same way that a home is more than a house, a place is often more than just a location.

Politics

Elected politicians provide an important democratic check on development. But we found examples of planning debates being hijacked for alternative agendas, or being used as a political football.

One director of planning said: “If we did not have the local MP whipping up opposition to the planning application, we would have gone through without much opposition.”

Engagement

Tokenistic and superficial engagement often leads to outright anger. A West London resident told us: “Developers change a couple of windows and hope that we will get tired.”

When people feel powerless they tend to protest, and it is no different when residents feel ignored by planners and developers.

Disruption

Residents also fear the noise and safety impacts from construction. In some areas of London development is so intense that construction has begun to feel like a permanent feature of daily life.

As one councillor explained to us: “There is always something going on: trucks going up and down; the roads are muddy; bits of pavement are cordoned off with the latest development hoardings; the noise. It’s just constant here.”

 

Town planning always involves trade‑offs and balancing the interests of different groups, and some communities’ opposition to new housing is deep‑seated and hard to shift. But offering someone a new playground when they are worried about the disruption construction will bring is not get you anywhere.

That’s why developers and local authorities need to invest more energy and time in understanding the causes local opposition, before trying to resolve them. Maybe then we’ll be able to accommodate London’s next phase of growth. 

Jo Corfield is communications manager at Centre for London. You can download the full report here

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More than 830 cities have brought essential services back under public control. Others should follow

A power station near Nottingham: not one owned by Robin Hood Energy, alas, but we couldn't find anything better. Image: Getty.

The wave of cities worldwide rejecting privatization is far bigger and more successful than anyone thought, according to a new report from the Transnational Institute, Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation. Some 835 cities in 45 countries have brought essential services like water, energy and health care back under public control.

The persistent myth that public services are by nature more expensive and less efficient is losing its momentum. Citizens and users do not necessarily have to resign to paying increasingly higher tariffs for lower standard services. The decline of working conditions in public services is not an inevitability.

And the ever larger role private companies have played in public service delivery may at last be waning. The remunicipalisation movement – cities or local authorities reclaiming privatised services or developing new options – demonstrates that cities and citizens are working to protect and reinvent essential services.

The failure of austerity and privatisation to deliver promised improvements and investments is part of the reason this movement has advanced. But the real driver has been a desire to meet goals such as addressing climate change or increasing democratic participation in service provision. Lower costs and tariffs, improved conditions for workers and better service quality are frequently reported following remunicipalisation.  Meanwhile transparency and accountability have also improved.

Where remunicipalisation succeeds, it also tends to inspire other local authorities to make similar moves. Examples are plentiful. Municipalities have joined forces to push for renewable, climate-friendly energy initiatives in countries like Germany. Public water operators in France and Catalonia are sharing resources and expertise, and working together to overcome the challenges they meet.

Outside Europe, experiments in public services are gaining ground too. Delhi set up 1,000 Mohalla (community) clinics across the city in 2015 as a first step to delivering affordable primary health care. Some 110 clinics were working in some of the poorest areas of Delhi as of February 2017. The Delhi government claims that more than 2.6m of its poorest residents have received free quality health care since the clinics were set up.


Local authorities and the public are benefiting from savings too. When the Nottingham City Council found out that many low-income families in the city were struggling to pay their energy bills, they set up a new supply company. The company, Robin Hood Energy, which offers the lowest prices in the UK, has the motto: “No private shareholders. No director bonuses. Just clear transparent pricing.”

Robin Hood Energy has also formed partnerships with other major cities. In 2016, the city of Leeds set up the White Rose Energy municipal company to promote simple no-profit tariffs throughout the Yorkshire and Humberside regions. In 2017, the cities of Bradford and Doncaster agreed to join the White Rose/Robin Hood partnership.

Meanwhile, campaigners with Switched on London are pushing their city to set up a not-for-profit energy company with genuine citizen participation. The motivations in these diverse cities are similar: young municipal companies can simultaneously beat energy poverty and play a key role in achieving a just and renewable energy transition.

Remunicipalised public services often involve new forms of participation for workers and citizens. Remunicipalisation is often a first step towards creating the public services of the future: sustainable and grounded in the local economy. Inspiration can be found in the European towns and villages aiming for 'zero waste' with their remunicipalised waste service, or providing 100 per cent locally-sourced organic food in their remunicipalised school restaurants.

Public services are not good simply because they are not private. Public services must also continuously renew themselves, grow, innovate and recommit to the public they serve.

The push for remunicipalisation in Catalonia, for example, has come from a movement of citizen platforms. For them, a return to public management is not just an end in itself, but a first step towards the democratic management of public services based on ongoing civil participation.

Evidence is building that people are able to reclaim public services and usher in a new generation of public ownership. The momentum is building, as diverse movements and actors join forces to bring positive change in communities around the world.

You can read the Transnational Institute report, “Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation”, on its website.