Localism – are we a nation of Nimbys?


There has been much written about the dichotomy of the government’s desire for localism and the need for more housing in many parts of the UK. The general perception is that local communities will not accept development of any type in their neighbourhoods and giving local communities more power over local planning decisions will stymie development throughout the country.

Research we undertook into Rural Housing Affordability for Defra found that in fact there was a willingness in many local rural communities to accept new housing provided some of it was to meet the needs of the local community.

We have followed up that research with a survey aimed at urban residents asking the degree to which they thought market housing, social housing, a supermarket, office block or a light industrial unit were acceptable or not in their local area. The survey while not claiming to be statistically rigorous provides a usefully corollary to our previous rural analysis.

What we found was that people are, just about, willing to accept additional market housing (that is private housing sold on the open market) in their area. On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is very opposed and 10 is very positive to development market housing scored 5.4. Social housing on the other hand scored 4.0 indicating that people are generally opposed to such developments in their local area. However, it did score marginally better than a supermarket which gained a score of 3.9 and offices at 3.7. Even fewer people were prepared to accept light industrial units which obtained a score of just 2.7.

This acceptance or not of housing and other development in a local area seems to depend on the nature of the local community. Evidence from the rural housing study and work we have done elsewhere suggests, not surprisingly, that people are much more accepting of development where there are clear local benefits. In larger urban areas where the benefit of development often does not accrue to the existing community there is less willingness to accommodate it.

A key task for the new localism and neighbourhood planning agenda would therefore seem to be to better align the interests of developers and residents to ensure development is made more widely acceptable.

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