Ich bin ein Osbaldwicker (NIMBYs are good)

Just one more tree

Just one more tree

This morning on the BBC Radio 4 Today program Sanchia Berg reported on a building project that took nine years to “work it’s way through the process” and I thought of Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi:

“You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone,
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot”

It seems that the government are about to publish a revised National Planning Policy Framework which will replace 44 existing planning statements numbering over 1,200 pages with a 49-page document.

The Today program reported that in 1999 plans were published to build 540 modern houses near the village of Osbaldwick east of York. Local people objected and, with the help of a local MP and the parish council, were able to delay the project until work finally started in 2011.

An interesting story but what struck me was that the whole stance of the BBC piece was that the objections of the local people were merely an inconvenient obstacle which had delayed a legitimate project. This was epitomised by Nigel Ingram, of the Joseph Rountree Foundation, who was reported as saying that “the planning system was primarily to blame” and the foundation thought that the battle cost it £5 million. Even Osbaldwick Parish Councilor, Wendy. Madocks, confessed that she found it “incredible” that the local people had managed to hold off the developers for ten years.

From this BBC report it seemed that the battle had beeb merely a waste of time and money and an encumbrance to the developers who were considered in the right by default.

It may have been fairer to portray this as a failure of democracy under pressure from a large well funded organisation.

One reason that we we assume that local people’s objections are an obstacle is that we brand them as NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard). We consider that these people want all the conveniences of modern living such as housing, electricity and sanitation without taking their share of the irritations which, in this instance, was to have an area of natural beauty demolished to make way for new houses.

I believe that condemning NIMBYs is short sighted and that, on the contrary, we should cheer NIMBYs in their battles to protect their corner of the natural environment.

Yes, it’s true that we need more housing, power stations and whatnot. However it will always be possible to make the argument that a handful of local people must sacrifice their little corner of planet Earth to pay for the necessities of modern life. And if we continually override the objections of NIMBYs then we shall eventually have all areas of natural beauty demolished.

It works like this:

Suppose that the stubborn people of Osbaldwick had won their battle. Suppose that whatever bureaucracy which rules on these things had come down 100% in their favour and the Rountree Foundation had been told, in no uncertain terms, that they could forget the idea of getting approval for the planning application near Osbaldwick. What then?

The pressure for housing would still exist and so the Foundation would have found another site and let us say, for the sake of argument, that the other site they had found was near Middlethorpe. Let us say that the foundation won approval there and the houses were built.

That would not have been the end of it.

The next time that it was necessary to build more houses or a power station or a sewage works then the planners would search around and the excellent site near Middlethorpe would have gone but they would be thinking, “…well, there is always that site up near Osbaldwick”. And this time when the planners came back they would claim the moral high ground. “Consider the honest people of Middlethorpe”, they would argue, “You cannot seriously expect them to put up with more houses when they allowed the development last time. The people of Osbaldwick must take there share of development”.

And even if Osbaldwick fought off this second assault there would be a third and a fourth until the area of natural beauty was eventually demolished.

That is how things work.

England used to be covered in forest but the great and the good always insisted that just a few more trees should be chopped down. Just a few more because the great and good always have enough money to live in the few remaining areas where there are trees.

Yesterday I was looking at my old secondary school from the air on Google Earth and it struck me how, when the school was built in the 1950s or 60s, there had been a great deal of space around the building. Some space for sports but also some just for kids to run around in. The school has changed over the years as the town has expanded and more buildings have sprung up on the green spaces where I used to run around. We all have grown used to living more densely packed.

Last year I went walking in The Peak District. I thought it would be good to get away from the city and walk around in the wilderness. Hah! Walking around in the hills I occasionally stopped to peer around and I observed scores of other bastards also standing on their fucking hind legs like bloody meerkats also looking around and trying to enjoy the wilderness. The English “wilderness” is crawling with tourists and it will not be long before they install sandwich dispensing machines.

England is too crowded and there is pressure for more housing and I guess it must be built but if we continue like this we will all be living in shoe boxes. Already I can see that my parents lived in a smaller home than my grand parents and I live in a smaller home than my parents.

Just a few more houses, just a few more. Just one more terminal at Heathrow Airport. Then, once it is built, just on more runway at Heathrow Airport. The argument for the Heathrow Airport is that England must maintain its position as a global hub but for who’s benefit? If our environment is gradually eroded by development then in who’s benefit is this development?  Just when are we going to stop hankering after more and more stuff and start valuing the stuff we have?

Thus far an no further! Ich bin ein Osbaldwicker and all that.

Star House

Star House

2 thoughts on “Ich bin ein Osbaldwicker (NIMBYs are good)

  1. It doesn’t matter if everyone on the planet is yelling stop as long as everyone on the planet continues to procreate. When I was a kid, the global population was 2 billion people. It is now 7 billion. These new humans are attracted to topography that is not ocean, not desert and not ice. They favor arable land in places with functional economic structures. As for the rise in tourism which you’ve ranted against previously, the problem is that we are no longer producing antiquities. Those that exist are all there is. A finite number of things to see with expanding numbers of people who want to see them.

    I’m afraid your England is just too desirable in almost every way. You should be grateful your climate is crap.

  2. Arrgg! Meercats!
    Was this the Peak District btw? I was there with you and don’t remember being particularly sentinel-like – paws down – head turning watchfully. “aint it doo bee doo bee doo dah don’t know paradise till its gone” hippy downer 😦 – hi 2 Jen, I’m in Aberdeen now – hope all is good – hi to Mark – anyway you’re right – I like relationships that are neither desert nor ice – humanity as u put it. I still believe I’m temporate?

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