Chris Pateman: the cult of Nimbyism is deeply ingrained.

Two cheers for Grant Shapps MP

Published:  19 January, 2010

ANALYSIS: Concerns remain about ‘NIMBYs’, writes Chris Pateman, managing director of the Builders’ Merchants Federation.

As Conservative Party Housing spokesman Grant Shapps (MP for Welwyn Hatfield) develops his vision of a fresh approach to housing policy, the people who will actually deliver the products and bankroll the buildingcontractors remain lukewarm at thelack of detail about precisely what is being expected of the industry.

The Builders Merchants Federation has been in the audience for Mr Shapps’ three keynote addresses onthe subject: first at the Conservative Party Conference; then at the Institute for Public Policy Research; and lastweek at the Construction Products Association’s Autumn Lunch.

In Manchester, the BMF spoke to Grant Shapps on the Party Conference Fringe – and was left in no doubt about the Shadow Housing Minister’s desire to scrap national targets and hand control of building projects over directly to local communities; shake up the planning system to allow local authority planning committees to be circumvented – if a proposed scheme attracted sufficient democratic approval by local residents – development could proceed in a given area and encourage new local housing trusts to deal directly with developers.

Good news for merchants

Builders’ merchants welcome this commitment from the Tories that they are (in their own words) unashamedly pro-development – and that under a Conservative Government, Britain will become a nation of home-builders.

Grant Shapps deserves congratulations for striving to tackle the thorny problem of balancing two ever-present but competing demands – the urgent need to build more homes each year to meet a growing demand and the opinions and objectives of local people who jealously protect their neighbour-hood.

We are delighted that at last some national politicians are beginning to understand the dire state of UK construction and are prepared to say what steps they will take to overcome the difficulties faced by BMF members.

Mr Shapps’ proposals appear designed to face down the ‘not-in-my-back-yard’ (NIMBYs) that get in the way of housebuilding necessary to meet today’s real shortages.

The downside

However, the BMF has genuine reservations about the Conservative approach.

Three times we have listened to Mr Shapps spell out his vision. But he still only gets two cheers.

We have yet to see and understand how he intends to translate his intentions into actual, on-the-ground construction.

Grant Shapps deserves congratulations for tackling the problem.

Individually and collectively, the electorate is two-faced about such development projects. They want decent and affordable homes for their children to aspire to own and get a foot on the property ladder, often using ‘the bank of mum and dad’.

But they are also are more than happy to object to planning proposals they perceive as a threat to their way of life and to organise petitions, stage protests and submit written objections.

It is this drawbridge mentality that 20 years ago led Conservative Environment Secretary Nicholas Ridley MP to first coin the phrase ‘NIMBY’.

Grant Shapps is mistaken if he believes his measures will end the culture of Nimbyism.

Will it work?

The plain, unavoidable fact is that despite his best intentions, the electorate does not see the bigger picture and appreciate what is needed on a national scale.

Don’t forget the muscle that voters wield by paying subscriptions to big national member-controlled organisations.

You only need to talk to planning inspectors to know the power that can be mobilised by well-funded and highly-organised charities such as the RSPB, CPRE and National Trust against developments.

In the coming months, the BMF wants to see how Tory-controlled shire county and district councils intend to exercise any new powers devolved down to them by their national leaders – assuming the Tories win the next General Election.

The BMF estimate for the numberof housing completions this year is broadly in line with those of the FMB, RICS and CPA – somewhere well below 80 000 units.

This is nowhere near the Government’s own annual requirement of 240 000 homes.

This article was first featured in the November 2009 issue of Builders' Merchants News.

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