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Urban NIMBYism

Larger, smarter city centre populations imply more ‘urban NIMBYs’ by 2040, making redevelopment tougher

Urban NIMBYism

Think of the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) and you probably think of rolling green fields, Swampy, and ‘concreting over the countryside’. Apart from the fact that the development against which the NIMBY is protesting might well be commuter belt housing for city workers, it doesn’t obviously have much to do with the big British city, as a very high proportion of residential development in urban areas is on so-called ‘brownfield’ (previously developed land) – Figure 1. The density of residential development in cities is also higher, though in some cities (notably in Birmingham, Nottingham and Newcastle) it’s not as high as might be expected compared with the all England average of 38 addresses per hectare.

Figure 1: Percentage of new residential addresses, and new addresses per hectare, on previously developed land, selected English local authorities, 2016-2017

109_Urban NIMBYism_figure 01_Graphic_746x430
Source: MHCLG Live Tables 302, 331

But if (as we argue elsewhere) green belt is here to stay, and the density of housing within cities is likely to increase, we predict that urban NIMBYism will be on the rise well before 2040, especially if city living by educated, talented graduates becomes even more popular than it has recently become. One of the effects of gentrification may also be that newer residents are more articulate than those who came before them and who weren’t so fortunate, and thus that resistance to change goes up in direct proportion to affluence.

109_Urban NIMBYism_pullquote_270x59Some evidence for this effect may be found in the pace of take-up we’ve seen in neighbourhood planning since its introduction in 2011. It was reported in 2014 that three years into the scheme, two thirds of neighbourhood plans related to rural areas, three quarters of plans were located in the south of England, and nearly 40% of plans related to the least deprived areas of England. Only nine out of 750 plans were being prepared in areas classified as most deprived.

However, the rush of communities to control their planning destiny may now have spread to urban areas. Leeds forms an interesting case study because the very loose city boundary includes both inner city areas and outlying villages. One Leeds councillor said: “Neighbourhood planning in Leeds is not just about the leafy villages, it’s for the inner city areas too.”

We predict that this trend towards detailed urban planning by local communities will have overtaken that of rural plans by 2040. The trend toward city centre living is causing urban areas to become repopulated, and with these new communities comes the critical mass, time, and ability to intervene locally – if only to protect their personal investment in housing in the area. This could well slow down the pace of change in city centres, with very local views potentially triumphing over the wider needs of the metropolis. Urban NIMBYism looks likely to take centre stage.

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Iain Jenkinson
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