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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Mayor Marvin Rees' hope for Bristol: A more equitable city that can 'live with difference'

“I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city," Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees says. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

When the statue of 18th century slave trader Edward Colston was torn from its plinth and dumped in Bristol’s harbour during the city’s Black Lives Matter protests on 7 June, mayor Marvin Rees was thrust into the spotlight. 

Refraining from direct support of the statue’s removal, the city’s first black mayor shared a different perspective on what UK home secretary Priti Patel called “sheer vandalism”:

“It is important to listen to those who found the statue to represent an affront to humanity,” he said in a statement at the time. “I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city and wherever we see it.”

48 year-old Rees, who grew up in the city, has since expanded on his approach to the issue in an interview with CityMetric, saying “wherever you stand on that spectrum, the city needs to be a home for all of those people with all of those perspectives, even if you disagree with them.”

“We need to have the ability to live with difference, and that is the ethnic difference, racial difference, gender difference, but also different political perspectives,” he added. “I have been making that point repeatedly – and I hope that by making it, it becomes real.” 


What making that point means, in practice, for Rees is perhaps best illustrated by his approach to city governance.

Weeks after the toppling of Colston’s statue, a new installation was erected at the same spot featuring Jen Reid, a protester of Black Lives Matter. However, the installation was removed, as “it was the work and decision of a London-based artist, and it was not requested and permission was not given for it to be installed”, Rees said in a statement.

Bristol may appear a prosperous city, logging the highest employment rate among the UK’s “core cities” in the second quarter of 2019. But it is still home to many areas that suffer from social and economic problems: over 70,000 people, about 15 percent of Bristol’s population, live in what are considered the top 10 percent most disadvantaged areas in England. 

In an attempt to combat this inequality, Rees has been involved in a number of projects. He has established Bristol Works, where more than 3,000 young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are given work experience opportunities. And is now setting up a commission on social mobility. “Launching a Bristol commission on social mobility is not only about social justice; it [should not be] possible for a modern city to leave millions of pounds worth of talent on the shelf, just because the talent was born into poverty,” he says.

The mayor is also a strong supporter of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), explaining that SDGs offer a way to talk about sustainability within a framework of many issues, ranging from climate change and biodiversity to women’s issues, domestic violence, poverty and hunger.

“What we want to achieve as a city cannot be done as a city working alone,” he insists. “We don’t want to benefit only people inside Bristol, we want to benefit the planet, and the SDGs offer a framework for a global conversation,” suggesting that a vehicle should be launched that allows cities to work together, ideally with organisations such as the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund involved. 

Greater collaboration between cities would be “beneficial in terms of economies of scale,” he argues, “as cities could get more competitive prices when buying materials for building houses or ordering buses, rather than each city acquiring a few of them at a higher price.”

In an attempt to focus on the long term, Rees launched One City Plan in January 2019, setting out a number of goals for Bristol to achieve by 2050.

Investing in green infrastructure to meet 2030 carbon emission targets spelled out in the SDGs is a key area here, with the mayor noting that transport, mass transit and energy are important sectors looking for further investment and government funding: “The sooner we meet our targets, the sooner we will benefit from them, and invest in sectors that will provide people with jobs.”

Jobs, especially following the outbreak of Covid-19, are of paramount importance to Rees. Bristol’s council wants to ensure that any government money given to the city will be quickly passed on to businesses to help prevent redundancies, he says, though given that mass job losses seem inevitable, reskilling options are also being looked into, such as through a zero-carbon smart energy project called City Leap.

Another important area for investment in Bristol is affordable housing, with 9,000 homes already built under Rees’s term of office. “People could build a base for life with affordable housing, [and this would mean] their mental health would be better because they have a safe place,” he explains. “Children in families that have a home that is affordable are more likely to able to eat and to heat, [and they are more likely to enjoy a] better education.”

Taken in the round, Rees’s agenda for Bristol is its own blueprint for shaping history. The Colston statue now lies in safe storage, with a local museum likely to play host to the controversial monument. But the Black Lives Matters protestors were fighting for a fairer, more equal future, and it is here where Rees is determined to deliver.

Sofia Karadima is a senior editor at NS Media Group.