22 April 2024

Nimby Watch: Nimbyism explodes in New Ferry


In a new series, CapX is celebrating the people trying their damndest to save the country from affordable housing or decent infrastructure. This week, Liverpudlian Nimbys are comparing new housing to an explosion that made 78 people homeless…

Where? New Ferry on the Wirral, just across the Mersey from South Liverpool.

What’s there now? A car park.

Haven’t we done car parks before? Yes, but wait for it.

Alright, alright, I’ll restrain my long-suffering sigh, I’m waiting. Who’s trying to build what? The joint project between Wirral council and the Regenda Group would provide a total of 43 affordable homes: terraced housing, an apartment block, plus new green space.

So who’s trying to stop them? A frankly upsetting range of people: the scheme has had 18 objections, and a petition against it has collected 300 signatures from those worried about the loss of the car park.

Well, if there are no other car parks- Oh, there are – but Mark Craig, chair of the New Ferry Residents Association, argues that potential shoppers won’t use them, because they’re plagued by anti-social behaviour. ‘If this proposal goes ahead’ – this quote is the kicker – ‘this will be a bigger disaster for the businesses than the explosion in 2017 because their customers will have nowhere to park’.

Hang on, what? Some background is probably in order here. In 2017, an explosion ripped through the town, destroying 60 properties, instantly making 78 people homeless and injuring 81. Police cordons forced 20 businesses to close for an extended period; seven were destroyed, and never reopened. It later emerged that the blast had been set deliberately by one local shop owner, in an attempt to claim insurance. He was jailed for 19 years. It was pretty bad. 

And the chair of the local residents association is now claiming that building some homes on a car park would somehow be… worse? Yes.

It’s not, though, is it? I mean, I know my function in this dialogue is supposed to be to give voice to the more reasonable objections of those who oppose any individual development. But it’s just… not. Yes, I know.

So what does he want to do with the space instead? He wants – this’ll shock you – a car park. But the council says that the existing facility ‘has been significantly under-used for several years, with the most recent survey showing optimum occupancy at 30%’. Other car parks could accommodate the demand, it says. 

I’m glad someone’s holding their ground. They’re not the only heroes in this story. Step forward local democracy reporter Edward Barnes and the subs at the Liverpool Echo for the framing of this story, and its headline:

‘Man claims new homes will be ‘bigger disaster’ than explosion that tore through town’

Seven businesses were destroyed and 78 people were made homeless overnight

What’s so heroic about that? Well, normally local newspapers are – I’m sorry to say this, because they do important work on tiny budgets for often terrible pay – absolutely dreadful on housing stuff. New developments are frequently framed as things people are objecting to; they are hardly ever framed as things that will benefit anyone. 

There are good reasons for this. Nimby campaigners send press releases and photos, which is helpful to a time-pressed news desk; outrage is good for clicks, and thus for business. Plus, of course, the people who benefit from new homes are far less likely to be nearby and visible than the people who object to them. Nonetheless, it means that local papers’ framing of housing matters is, let’s say, unhelpful to those who’d like to see a resolution to the housing crisis.

Our man Edward and his colleagues, though, have made clear that – at least, in this particular case – this is ludicrous. There is simply no way that this story was written or headlined without everyone involved being firmly aware that the claim that some new flats could be worse for a town than an explosion which literally destroyed people’s homes is simply unbelievably offensive. The plucky reporter spotted the insanity of the quote, and he ran with it. There’s even a photo of the residents’ association chair standing proudly in front of the wasteland he wants to protect, sandwiched between reminders of his utterly bizarre views. Local journalism at its finest.

Is this a bad time to remind you of how, when you started this column, you swore you wouldn’t be mean about individual Nimby campaigners, only politicians…? Is this a bad time to remind everyone that New Ferry is conveniently located for Merseyrail, anyway? 

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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.