Wednesday, 12 June 2013

In defence of NIMBYs

In the comments to an earlier post, Bob E sourced this piece of hypocrisy from the then Environment Secretary, Nicholas Ridley (the man who had no intention of spending more time with his family):

As environment secretary, Ridley had no fear in appearing abrasive. He was, after all, the man in charge of the poll tax.

He also used his position to attack the rural middle classes for their opposition to development, calling it "crude Nimbyism".

At the root of distaste for Nimbys is a belief that the protesters are putting their own interests ahead of the needs of society, and that their objections are selfish rather than principled.

It's an analysis which was only strengthened when Ridley himself was later revealed to be opposing the building of new houses which he would have been able to see from his Cotswold country home."


Ridley was voicing a widely-held view here, very much what you'd expect to hear from the man in the pub, but on closer examination, it rarely holds up. What it usually boils down to is that a group of people living in a specific area are being asked to suffer a financial loss, not to fulfil "the needs of society", but so that someone else can make a financial profit. Admittedly, in some cases, the NIMBYs are opposing the construction of public infrastructure, like a new road, where they will gain as much as everyone else, but the gains are spread thinly throughout the population, whereas the losses are concentrated in a small area.

The most usual cause of NIMBYism, though is a housing development. Here thing are more clear-cut. One person, or one organisation stands to make a huge windfall profit, by getting planning permission to rezone agricultural land to residential and a small group of people stand to make a loss as the value of their houses is reduced.

The problem is this, and it is ubiquitous, which is why NIMBYism is ubiquitous (not, as some have suggested, because it is in the British genome): when you buy land, you are paying, mainly, for the location. Nearly everything that makes up this location is out of your control. You have no rights to it and no entitlement to its benefits, yet you are forced to pay a premium for these benefits when you buy your land.

Consider the case of a man who buys a house near a railway station. He might hate railways and always travel everywhere by car and have bought that house for other reasons, yet part of what he paid for that house was demanded from him because of its proximity to the station. If the station had been closed just before he bought the house, it would have been that much cheaper to buy. If the station is closed while he owns the house, he will get that much less when he sells it, so he will have lost out, even though he never wanted to be near the station in the first place and the loss of the station is not inconveniencing him in any other way.

Similarly if you buy a house with a great view, part of what you pay is for the view, even if you are an agoraphobe who never draws the curtains or goes outside and that part is what you will lose if someone builds a housing estate in front of your house.

Of course there are those who oppose anything new on principle and those who are unaffected by the change, but just want to keep everything how it was when they moved there and Greenies who oppose anything that is going to "increase carbon emissions"and people objecting to the aesthetics of the development, which I think is fair enough, they have to live next to the damn thing, but others think is arrant meddling, but the bulk of NIMBYism boils down people objecting to being forced to lose money so that some other bugger can make it.

14 comments:

Mark Wadsworth said...

"What it usually boils down to is that a group of people living in a specific area are being asked to suffer a financial loss, not to fulfil "the needs of society", but so that someone else can make a financial profit."

Nope - they object even more vehemently to social housing where nobody makes a windfall gain. And I know that even social tenants object to more social housing being built (or they certainly do round my way).

And even if they knew that the developer had to pay such a high amount under a s104 agreement that he made no windfall gain at all, they would object.

Further, in the absence of LVT, owners of existing homes actually make a modest capital gain when new stuff is built round them, I sussed this out years ago which is the second reason why I never objected to anything being built round my way- even when I owned a house and four flats there.

The first reason was that I am not an unreasonable NIMBY shit, I am libertarian, of course

Mark Wadsworth said...

"not, as some have suggested, because it is in the British genome"

Oh it is, it is a national illness (the Yanks and Aussies have it too) but in other countries (for example in Germany) people just accept new construction and the replacement of little old buildings with bigger new ones as a fact of life and the way things are.

I'm sure there are plenty of other cultures where people are grown up enough to see construction as a natural, ongoing part of life, the same as any other kind of economic activity.

Bayard said...

"Nope - they object even more vehemently to social housing where nobody makes a windfall gain. And I know that even social tenants object to more social housing being built "

The first is snobbery, but it's other people's snobbery that rubs off on you: your property is devalued, because other people don't like social tenants. The second is just bizarre, but perfectly understandable, given the warped nature of British society.

"And even if they knew that the developer had to pay such a high amount under a s104 agreement that he made no windfall gain at all, they would object."

Well of course, they are still losing out, that is the main objection. I am sure there are many cases where "owners of existing homes actually make a modest capital gain when new stuff is built round them", but, especially in the countryside, they can easily make a loss.

Bayard said...

" in Germany people just accept new construction and the replacement of little old buildings with bigger new ones as a fact of life and the way things are."

Isn't that more likely to be due to differences in land tenure and planning, for instance in Germany most people rent their homes and in France the commune system makes these sort of decisions much more local. Of course national characteristics play a part, the absurd British obsession with class you have highlighted above being a case in point.

Sarton Bander said...

I'd vigorously object to anti-social housing even though I rent, because I care about crime and don't like slum creation schemes.
http://www.quarterly-review.org/?p=1768#.UbhL9jNpAdQ.facebook


OT though.

http://sciencenordic.com/little-sustainable-growth-african-cities

Oh dear me.

The Stigler said...

What it usually boils down to is that a group of people living in a specific area are being asked to suffer a financial loss, not to fulfil "the needs of society", but so that someone else can make a financial profit.

Society doesn't need housing?

People cannot expect farm or fallow land near them not to be built on and it is absurd to think otherwise. That's exactly how their house was built in the first place.

The problem with the UK is that we have a bizarre, romantic attachment to villages. Except, they're not really villages any more. They're soulless dormitories full of middle-class people who like green space, which is why all the village pubs started closing decades ago.

The French don't. The French still view living in towns and cities as the higher status living. The villages are where the peasants live.

Personally, I blame our post-war construction efforts in cities. We took Le Corbusier's ideas far more seriously than the French, who mostly just built lots of white buildings that were like a modern twist on the early 20th century French buildings that people found attractive.

Mark Wadsworth said...

B: "Isn't [the absence of NIMBYism] more likely to be due to differences in land tenure and planning, for instance in Germany "

Crikey, they don't ALL rent, you know. Where I lived, more than half owned, but even the owners weren't NIMBYs. Seriously, they didn't even think about it or talk about it.

And you can't explain absence of NIMBYism by "differences in planning", you explain the latter by the former.

So far you are not putting much of a defence of NIMBYs, more of an apology, this is more like a "plea in mitigation" by a lawyer who knows his client is guilty as hell.

Bayard said...

"Society doesn't need housing?"

Of course society needs housing, but you don't seriously believe that every housing development is dictated by need, do you? No, it's driven by demand, which is something completely different.

"People cannot expect farm or fallow land near them not to be built on and it is absurd to think otherwise. "

What you think makes absolutely no difference to the price you pay. If you form up to the vendor of the house and say that you want to knock £20K off the asking price because he can't give a guarantee that the land in front of the house won't be built on, he'll just tell you to go away and sell the house to someone else.

Bayard said...

"So far you are not putting much of a defence of NIMBYs, more of an apology, this is more like a "plea in mitigation" by a lawyer who knows his client is guilty as hell."

Actually I feel more like a lawyer defending a black man in the Deep South.

The Stigler said...

Bayard,

If you form up to the vendor of the house and say that you want to knock £20K off the asking price because he can't give a guarantee that the land in front of the house won't be built on, he'll just tell you to go away and sell the house to someone else.

That's fine by me. If people take the faux bucolic rural idyll choice, that's up to them. They forsook the option of buying in a developed area at a lower price, or living in a genuine cheap rural area like South Wilts or Mid-Wales, despite it being obvious that they are paying a premium for a view that could be destroyed.

If they're rich enough to buy in the country and can't estimate risk properly then they and their money were probably lucky to get together in the first place.

Bayard said...

Mark, you've missed your cue to say "this is another problem that LVT would sort out"

Mark Wadsworth said...

B, I was waiting for you to say it :-)

I can't spend my whole life stating the bleedin' obvious.

Bayard said...

"B, I was waiting for you to say it :-)"

I already have.

"I can't spend my whole life stating the bleedin' obvious."

Isn't that the fate of all LVT supporters?

Mark Wadsworth said...

B: "Isn't that the fate of all LVT supporters?"

Yes, of course it is. But that is also stating the bleedin' obvious :-)