The rise of the "selfish" housing Nimby

28 March 2014

We bought a new-build home a couple of years ago, a result of being priced out of the area we preferred and forced to look for lower-cost alternatives nearby. A new-build would not have been our first choice but the property itself has been sound.

Pros and cons aside, my home wouldn’t exist at all if Nimbys had had their way.

I remember an incident that occurred while we were waiting to move in – a time of great optimism. It turned out that a builder who was doing some work in the property we currently lived in, had a house in the village we were moving to. He told us in no uncertain terms that he had opposed the development and gave us a rundown of things that would go wrong, including poor drainage and the fact that the developer hadn’t done enough work on the sewers, so we’d all be knee-deep in effluent within a year.

Needless to say, our home is not swimming in human waste (unless you count my six-month-old’s regular emissions), and I remain angry at the builder’s outburst, coming at a time of excitement for our family.

Similarly, I have encountered at least three dog-walkers in the past couple of years who have felt it necessary to remark that my home now occupies what was once a beautiful green field. Our development is still surrounded by acres of green fields but this hasn’t dampened the ire of the village Nimbys.

One of my neighbours also tells the story of visiting the village’s only supermarket and engaging in friendly conversation with the till operator, an older lady. She was friendly and hugely interested in the fact he had recently moved to the area – until he told her he had moved into our development. At which point she wrinkled her nose and refused to speak to him anymore.

The problem with Nimbys of this type is that they are inherently selfish, displaying an “I’m alright Jack” sentiment that fails to take into account the housing situation for people yet to get on the property ladder.

If younger people could afford to buy the over-priced housing stock that already exists in my village and elsewhere, they would. But thanks to decades of house inflation caused in part by the rise of the buy-to-let sector and the government’s benign housing policy, they must instead look to cheaper, new-build housing. The latter makes sense because it often comes with incentives and additional support such as the Help To Buy scheme.

It’s all very well opposing a housing development when you bought a home for a pittance decades before and have earned, on paper, hundreds of thousands of pounds; but during that time others have been priced out of the market entirely.

This attitude does far more damage to the housing market and, by extension, society than any developer can do to a local community. People are now stuck renting well into their 30s and sometimes into their 40s. The only way today’s young adults will be able to buy their own home is if supply starts to match demand.

As The Observer reported recently, the Nimbys must wake up to the social and economic consequences of their opposition to new homes. A report by housing charity Shelter found that “wealthy executives, flourishing families and affluent greys” are the most likely groups to oppose new housing developments; or, as The Observer put it, “the lucky few from the comfort of their own – increasingly valuable – homes”.

The problem with Nimbyism is that it is terribly shortsighted and rarely offers a solution. If the Nimbys in my area had had their way, many of my neighbours might still be dreaming of home ownership.

You may not like housebuilding in your area but is the alternative really more palatable?