Nimby or not Nimby?

Possible site of two houses in Nithdale Road

Possible site of two houses in Nithdale Road

A new planning application for 2 houses in Nithdale Road set me musing about Nimbyism. The acronym NIMBY (Not In My Back-Yard) is often used pejoratively, or as wikipedia says: “The term is usually applied to opponents of a development, implying that they have narrow, selfish, or myopic views.”

I have in the past opposed developments similar to the one proposed in Nithdale Road that were literally almost in my back yard, and I’ve felt slightly guilty about being a NIMBY. After all there is a housing crisis in the UK, with according to Shelter, 1.7 million people on local authority waiting lists, 7.4 million homes failing to meet the government decent homes standard and 654000 households overcrowded. Also, with the population rising, not enough new houses  are being built each year; it has been estimated that 240000 new homes are needed each year and only about half that number are being built. So it’s pretty selfish to deny other people the opportunity to have a home of their own, isn’t it?

But … there do seem to be a lot of new houses and flats built in the area. The Love Lane development will apparently yield more than 900 new homes, then there is the ongoing development of the  Royal Military Academy and the Royal Arsenal sites yielding hundreds more. Not to mention the 16 story residential block to be built on the DLR site, according to the new Woolwich Masterplan,  and many smaller developments such as the former Cottage Hospital. Do we need to build on every small plot of land, irrespective of the impact on the neighbourhood?

Also it appears that proposed developments try to fit in as as many homes as possible. I guess more separate “units” equals more money. I’ve noticed a pattern on several proposals where there are a series of planning applications that successively reduce the number of proposed units in order to get planning approval. One went from a 4 storey block of flats to a 3½ storey block to a pair of three storey semis over the course of three or four years. Another, similar to that proposed in Nithdale Road, started with two small semis which was rejected, then changed to a single dwelling (also rejected). If I were cynical I’d call it the “see what you can get away with” tactic. Some of these homes seem very small; in fact new homes in the UK are the smallest  in Europe.

Hoardings round plot in Eaglesfield Road

Hoardings round plot in Eaglesfield Road

The planning history for the plot of land at the end of Eaglesfield Road also demonstrates the trend of successive applications for a reducing number of units. In this case from 12 flats to 8 ending in an application for 6 flats which was turned down by the council and then allowed on appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. As consent was granted over 3 years ago it should now have lapsed, but the land has been left unattractively hoarded up for several years. Sometimes such plots of land tend to turn into rubbish dumps if the people who live near them aren’t vigilant. The land owners, many of whom don’t live locally, don’t suffer from the impact to the local environment of neglecting a plot, or the long term impact on the built environment of building something that doesn’t fit in. It’s very rarely that I read a planning application and I think “that person really cares about the area”.

Recently applications to build on land that used to be back gardens have been turned down because it was seen as “garden grabbing” which Councils were allowed to use as a reason for rejection. It isn’t clear whether this will still have any force when the planning laws change. It’s also not clear to me how the proposed “presumption in favour of development” will balance against localism’s “new rights and powers for communities”. However that plays out,  land owners may decide to just need to hang on to their holdings until some future government relaxes the rules sufficiently to allow them to build what they want.

As a result of my musings I feel a little bit less guilty about being a Nimby, and I will keep sending in my objection letters anyway.