8 April 2024

Nimby Watch: No royalty in my backyard


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, Nimbys are up in arms over King Charles’ ‘ideal town’… 

Where? Faversham in north Kent, just under 50 miles out of London.

What’s there now? Faversham itself is a medieval market town, which promises ‘cutting-edge art, inventive cuisine, funky cultural quarters [and] chic sleep-spots’, whatever they are. The site in question, though, doesn’t offer any of that: it’s a couple of fields on the town’s south eastern fringe, wedged between the M2 and A2 roads. 

Who wants to build what? I can’t sum this up better than the Daily Mail, in one of the tightly written and not at all hysterical headlines for which it is known and revered across the English-speaking world:

‘Anger at King Charles’ plan to build an ‘ideal town’ in Kent: Locals lash out at Duchy of Cornwall over proposals for 2,500 homes on 320 acres of farmland which they fear will ‘swallow up historic villages into an urban mass’

There’s a lot to unpick there. There really is, isn’t there? Let’s start with the description of the site. Would you like to see a map of the historic villages which these entirely calm and normal members of the great British public are petrified could be swallowed up into an urban mass?

Would I ever. Here you go:

The site is the bit between the M2, Salter’s Lane and Canterbury Road.

I’m having trouble finding the villages. I’m having trouble finding anything at all. It’s all just fields – fields, what’s more, in which you’re never more than a couple of hundred metres from one of the country’s busiest roads. The garden of England this is not. 

Okay, but the internet tells me there are only around 21,000 people in Faversham. I can understand how a 25% population increase could come as a shock. Could it, though? Because here’s the standfirst, containing a detail the Mail didn’t want in the headline. (Other, lesser news organs prefer to keep their headlines short. The Mail, though, knows better.)

The plans seek to build 120 homes each year across a 20-year period

This is not the wanton concreting of the green and pleasant land which will have the population of a rural idyll waking up one morning to find they suddenly live in Hong Kong or Newark, New Jersey: this is a gentle plan to build a modest number of homes in a commuter town with a high speed rail link to London, over 20 sodding years

So why are they annoyed? Is it because there’s no infrastructure? There is infrastructure! I literally just told you about some of the infrastructure! There’s also a station on HS1, the only high speed rail link we’ve actually managed to finish. There are two major arterial roads. There are also plans for a new primary school, a local high street, new sites for the local football and cricket clubs and potentially a care home and health facilities, too. 

The Mail explained all this in a graphic with the ominous title of ‘AND IT’S NOT JUST HOUSES…’ – thus brilliantly managing to suggest that the only thing that could terrify the locals more than the prospect of homes being built without infrastructure was throwing a sinister plan to build infrastructure into the mix, too. 

Okay, so maybe the problem is they’ve seen the King’s already existing ideal town of Poundbury, and don’t fancy it much. Tastes differ, but I’m not sure the objections are that coherent. A sample:

Do you really want it to be ‘on your watch’ that all our historic villages are swallowed up into one urban mass?’ There are no villages there, Peter, this is extremely obvious if you bother to look.

‘What about food security??’ There are 42m acres of farmland in the UK, I don’t think it’s these 320 that are going to push us over the edge.

We live in constant fear about what the Duchy’s next move will be and how it will destroy yet more of our beautiful countryside.’ It’s a field next to a bloody motorway! We’ll still have plenty of fields next to motorways, too! 

My favourite, though, is this:

‘My family are very proud 3rd-generation Duchy farmers and they feel ashamed and betrayed. No honour, just greed.’

This chap was proud to farm land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall – a fully owned subsidiary, remember, of the British Crown. He had no issue with the undemocratic nature of the monarchy, the way it builds inequality into the foundations of our political system, the way it sucks in public funding, or any of the other things the Royal Family’s critics normally complain about. Its involvement in several centuries of violence, conquest and imperial domination? None of those things shook his pride.

But the minute it wants to build some houses – that is a sign the House of Windsor is getting greedy. And now it needs to be stopped

So greedy. And so unlike the homeowners of Kent in that way. If we ever have a revolution in this country it’ll be because they cancel bin day.

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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.