How to combat potential Nimbyism in areas of high housing demand
“To stop the seemingly endless rise in house prices, we simply have to build more homes – especially in the places where unaffordability is greatest”. The words from Theresa May’s speech on changes to the planning system in England and Wales last year (2018).
But as the prime minister went on to say, it provokes many difficult questions. Where do you build them? On what sites? And what kind of homes? The trickier one to answer is, in which communities? It’s something planners must wrestle with daily, as do developers.
Opposition to large-scale developments usually comes about when people in an area become worried, rightly or wrongly, that their town or village will be overrun with hundreds of new arrivals. Their schools may be already full to the brim and the roads clogged up with traffic. It may be impossible for them to get a GP appointment. Understandably, people want to know if new facilities and infrastructure will come hand in hand with any new homes.
In the 1980s, the term Nimby (Not In My Back Yard) was coined and has ever since become a common putdown to the naysayers. The Oxford Dictionaries’ definition of Nimby is: “A person who objects to the siting of something perceived as unpleasant or hazardous in their own neighbourhood, especially while raising no such objections to similar developments elsewhere”.
Those objections are something that home builders and councils work together to combat. In my view, the term Nimby can often be an unfair representation of honestly held beliefs. Local concerns and issues have to be addressed and should always be at the centre of the planning process. We must not end up as we did in the 1960s and 1970s of quickly and cheaply building estates with little regard to design, community engagement and impact.
Countryside recently carried out an industry survey on homebuilding and placemaking as part of its 60th anniversary celebrations. Interestingly, seventy per cent of respondents believed that the most important factor was producing local plans that draw on the views of people living there and project a vision for the future that meets their needs.
From day one of identifying a site, it’s vital developers closely collaborate with local authorities. They are critical, as you’d guess, to whether we succeed in securing the go ahead to build.
Inevitably, we tailor all of our schemes to local needs, not just because that’s the process but because it’s the right thing to do. It’s why we consult at masterplan stage, during construction and after a project is completed.
Taking into account the impact locally is crucial. We have a significant project in north London involving nearly a 1,000 new homes. The former Alma Estate in Ponders End, Enfield was identified for regeneration but there were challenges to overcome. In partnership with the council, we conducted resident surveys before starting the design to understand exactly what was important to existing residents and how to enhance the development to meet current and future needs. It led to 84% of residents accepting our proposals and as a result we have been included in The Mayor’s Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration.
In Bishop’s Stortford, East Hertfordshire we achieved an allocation for Green Belt release in the adopted local plan after a number of years of promotion. In preparing the masterplan we worked with the Council and held a number of workshops with officers, district, county and parish councillors as well as other local interest groups to bring together all views to help shape the final masterplan which was subsequently adopted by the Council.
At another of our developments - Acton Gardens in West London – we initially faced a huge challenge. Eighty per cent of existing residents didn’t want to go onto the estate. Now over 90% want to stay, thanks to an unwavering emphasis on the quality of design and build. This demonstrates the power of collaboration. The council, residents and developer work together as a team, solving the problems, and pushing the project forward.
Nimby-ism should not be seen as an obstacle but something to embrace. The government is calling for 300,000 new homes to be built every year until at least 2025. This will undoubtedly be met with resistance from certain communities. The challenge will be to keep listening, working out a solution that is a win-win for those who already have a place to call home and those that do not.
Head of Planning, Countryside