Why we won’t solve the housing crisis without understanding NIMBYs

Simply liberalising planning law won’t be enough to dissuade residents concerns around housebuilding

Newly elected Lib Dem MP for Chesham and Amersham Sarah Green in the early hours of 18 June 2021
  1. Destruction of natural habitats and beautiful green spaces
  2. Loss of local democracy over changes to their neighbourhoods
  3. Unacceptable change to architectural style and character
  1. Destruction of natural habitats and green spaces can be avoided by re-zoning the distinction of “Green Belt” and “greenfield” land more appropriately. Many have pointed out that much of the “green belt” consists of land including disused air strips and land with little to no ecological importance or natural beauty. The government can address this by removing the broad “Green Belt” distinction and focusing on applying, even expanding, the distinction of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) as the base standard to separate ugly and unamenable portions of the green belt from that which can be developed. Not only will this give actual green spaces even more legal protection from development, but it does so while freeing up less objectionable sites for development by losing the inaccurate “green” label.
  2. Local democracy is something people care about, and the UK’s political system sadly offers relatively little of it with the glaring exception of development rights. The debate has raged on about whether central government or local councils should have more control but the solution may actually lie in devolving powers even more locally than the council level. The smallest level of government is of course the individual, and as the old saying goes an Englishman’s home is his castle: while many individuals might oppose developers in their areas, their attitudes shift whenever they want to build extensions and changes to their own properties. Therefore, granting permitted development rights to individual households to build upwards to a maximum of six storeys and take up more of their plots would do exactly that without giving an inch to big developers. But we can go a step further.
  3. Architecture and an area’s character, in my experience, seems to be the objection to new housing that I hear most often. If something is ugly people do not want to see it built and if every newbuild appears to be ugly it fosters a greater opposition to housebuilding as a whole. As organisations such as Create Streets have shown, it is possible to even love and encourage development while maintaining the importance of beauty. Local democracy (of which many NIMBYs seek to defend so strongly) can be devolved lower than the council level down to individual streets. Streets should be granted the power to vote on local architectural styles and design codes to allow only beautiful development to flourish. This will allow people to be much more at ease with new housing and feel like they still maintain a strong voice, even if they have less of a veto on construction as a whole. Aesthetics is not a factor that should be underrated and is a powerful motivator, as acknowledging it shows respect for communities while enabling our social commitment to more building.

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