7 May 2024

Nimby Watch: A look inside the Nimby soul


In a new series, CapX is celebrating the way our planning system tries its very best to save the country from affordable housing or decent infrastructure. This week, it’s something slightly different, as we explore a triptych of Nimbyism…

Where are we off to this week? The darkest recesses of the Nimby soul.

Is that somewhere in Bromley? One of the side effects of a column like this, you see, is that people start sending you far more material than you could ever possibly use. Some of it gets put to one side because, after a while, your common or garden ‘locals oppose flats’ story starts to feel a bit ‘dog bites man’: it’s too normal, there’s nothing there worth mocking.

Others, though, are at the other end of the spectrum.

In that you can’t decide what to mock? In that they’re so weird that dedicating an entire column to mocking them feels a bit off. Surely there must be something else going on I can’t see, because this can be how people actually think the world works, can it?

Consider the story of Mr A. Gerko, a man with a very large house in Buckinghamshire who in 2022 built a pond in his garden. The inevitable result is that he’s spent the last two years fighting the objections of both council and parish councils, and been the subject of two largely identical stories in the Bucks Free Press.

The councils aren’t fans of wildlife I assume? Quite the opposite: they claim to be acting in defence of both the Chiltern AONB and the Medmenham Biodiversity Opportunity Area. They question whether the wildlife pond is actually a wildlife pond at all – something to do with paperwork – and fret about the potential harm to local biodiversity which they can’t actually see because of the absence of that paperwork. And although the impact on nearby habitats is defined as ‘acceptable’, this factor is apparently only ‘neutral’. Your guess is as good as mine.

It’s hard to work out what’s actually going on here. Quite – the words ‘keen philanthropist’ keep popping up, which, hmm – but what it looks suspiciously like is some local busybodies trying to stop a bloke with a big house from digging a pond in his own garden.

Put like that it hardly sounds weird at all. Okay then: consider the story of the new broadband pole in Brough, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, which has been opposed by a single independent councillor because it’s ‘disrespectful’ to a war memorial

Sorry, what? Is it actually in the war memorial? Across the road, a good 30 feet away. But apparently it might be a mild inconvenience ‘at least three times a year’ when people gather on the corner to think about war. ‘There’s so many people who have connections to the Armed Forces here,’ says independent councillor Colleen Gill of Dale ward, ‘then these cowboys come along and do this. It’s so disrespectful to the soldiers and they don’t seem to care about the people who live in an area.’

Perhaps I’m too online, but I’d argue that providing reliable and efficient broadband is actually the greatest way to show you do care.

Sorry, how is this disrespectful to the war dead exactly? Unclear, but the contractor promised to review the site of the pole, even though it’s further from the war memorial than the last pole.

Okay, that one I’ll give you is a bit mad. You’ll love this one, then. A couple in the Suffolk town of Bungay have complained that the local council has put up a noticeboard and a bench next to a bus stop opposite their front window, and thus ‘devalued their home’. It’s a conservation area, you see.

Can’t they just put up some net curtains? They have instead blocked up their windows with some signs reading, ‘It is an / eyesore to look at / great job / Bungay Town Council’ By doing so they claim to have ‘used irony’.

The council has responded, not unreasonably, that sometimes people like to sit down at bus stops.

This is the darkest recesses of the Nimby soul is it? Yes! Because the people in all these stories have somehow got it into their head that they have a perfect right to block either community infrastructure or amenities on private land, and are willing to use the planning system and the press to oppose them. That shared sacrifice is a part of living in a society, or that such things are quite simply none of their business, never seems to occur to them.

But it’s not clear the planning system is intended to block all these things. It’s not – and yet people just assume that it is. So that’s my big question: Did Britain’s large and thriving population of interfering busybodies create our restrictive planning system? Or did the planning system help create such a large and thriving population of busy bodies?

I’m still not clear how a pole can be disrespectful to our war dead. It declined to wear a poppy when it appeared in the news.

Jonn Elledge’s new book, A History of the World in 47 Borders: The Stories Behind the Lines on Our Maps, is out now.

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Jonn Elledge is a journalist and author.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.