The strange death of NIMBY England

Last week we revealed more evidence of the sheer level of anxiety among voters about housing, particularly parents anxious about their children’s future. Heading into the election, it’s making housing a top 5 issue for voters.

Up to now, though, anxiety has not always been joined by public support for the solution: building more homes. Sure, people have always agreed with the need for more homes generally, but “not here, not there”, not locally; not in my backyard. This has led nervous governments of all stripes to push short-cut solutions, like Help to Buy.

But some interesting independent research we’re highlighting today shows how attitudes to building more homes locally have shifted in recent years. As anxiety has risen about the problem, public acceptance of the solution has risen with it.

You can read it in full on our policy library. Based mostly on tables from the recent British Social Attitudes survey, it shows:

1.    NIMBYism has collapsed across all voter groups.
In 2010, there was not a single voter group who overall supported more homes being built in their local area. By 2013 there was not a single voter group who didn’t.

*Caution: small UKIP sample

2.    The decline in NIMBYism is particularly startling among those who voted Conservative in 2010.

3.    The turnaround in support for new homes locally cuts across all age groups, with the decline in NIMBYism particularly marked among the 55-65 and the 65+ group. 


4.    And there’s been a big change in homeowners attitudes, too.

The shift change here is too large to be dismissed. It’s hard to reach any conclusion than the obvious: as people have started to worry more about symptoms of the housing shortage (a generation priced out, high rents, overcrowding), they have accepted the need for the solution – building more homes – even in their local area. The failure of a generation of short-cut solutions and gimmicks has probably helped things along the way. That might also explain why Help to Buy, for instance, fares so poorly in polling compared to housebuilding solutions.

It doesn’t mean that public support for new homes locally is unconditional. As our conversations with voters in Medway showed (part of our Wolfson prize entry to design a new Garden City), to lock in local support for more homes you need to convince people they will be (a) affordable and (b) for people like them. But do that, and opposition can be quelled.

Of course, even beyond that there will probably always be a handful of opponents – but for the first time in recent history, we can say they are consigned to a tiny unrepresentative minority.

It all adds up to a huge political opportunity in the election: to own the anxiety of a whole generation of young people and their parents and be the party who solves the housing crisis once and for all, by building the homes we need. There can be no more excuses.

  1. Great research which should be better publicised. Far too much housing is delayed or stopped by planners and planning committees running scared of noisy nimbies. It really needs this silent majority in favour of housing to assert its voice.

  2. This is brilliant news and gives hope for the future.

  3. There is no solution without land reform. Capture most of the land value uplift from planning permission, cut the most unproductive element of the cycle out of the picture (the landowner as if you hadn’t guessed), legislate to force landowners to release land for housing at current use values. Much as I applaud the sentiment I really don’t like the term NIMBY. Planning is a mediation between all interests in a mixed economy and it is there to protect existing amenity of all stakeholders including local people who may have justifiable concerns. The fact is infrastructure to support development often lags (see earlier point about value capture – the public domain is unable to do this efficiently at present, being side-tracked by CIL, Section 106, and the myriad tiers of infrastructure strategies and plans) and this can create problems. So if you really want a solution tackle the vested interests of the land lobby which is at the heart our unwritten constitution (private property being sacrosanct – I blame Magna Carta) and their ‘rent-seeking’ (in the sense of the economic definition) tendencies – which even Adam Smith decried as anathema to the efficient functioning of capitalism. Look to that deadbeat German economy for evidence of how such intervention in the land market can work for a balanced and sensible housing market.

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