Feature: Watch out NIMBYs, the YIMBYs are here

By Melanie Omirou, Executive Group Managing Director, Acorn Property Group

Since the 1960s and 70s and as a result of some terrible planning policies and architecture, local politicians and activists have sought greater control over what’s built in their communities.

This started as a hugely positive thing but gave rise to the NIMBYs – ‘not in my back yard’ – generally older activists who have little interest in the long-term future of their community and object to housing development regardless.

But more recently, a new group of activists has emerged.

The effect of NIMBYism on rural communities is clear. The desire to preserve the idyll of country life has made delivering development a huge challenge resulting in an extreme shortage of homes, rising prices and little economic opportunity. Pubs and village shops have struggled or closed.

Without the investment in new homes and business space to open the door to young people and families, rural towns and villages risk a slow death.

NIMBYs are predominantly older, already have a home and don’t want or need a local job. Fed up with the sway they have over planning and how it stifles opportunities, YIMBYs – ‘yes in my back yard’ – have emerged.

YIMBYs are generally younger people and families who prefer to live in the country rather than in urban areas. They want development to happen so there are more homes and a more sustainable rural economy.

This group might just be the one who will save rural communities, and there are already signs that the sentiment around development in the countryside is changing.

A survey by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) found that political allegiance in rural communities is shifting away from what is traditionally a Conservative stomping ground. There is a perception that the Conservatives are not doing enough to support and boost rural economies, and locals who are affected are using their votes to show their disapproval.

As a result, the Conservative’s share of the rural vote is shrinking while other parties, including Labour, are seeing an increase.

Planning committees conducted virtually because of Covid have helped. It is easier for the digitally savvy younger generation to get involved, and they are standing up in support of proposed development.

They are organised and coordinated. The YIMBY Alliance is an umbrella for a number of local groups campaigning for more affordable housing and an end to the housing crisis. It helps to highlight forthcoming planning applications so people can show their support for plans at planning committees.

Just Build Homes is another organisation which monitors and targets planning applications with the aim of getting more development greenlit.

The frustration with the power NIMBYs have over planning decisions is understandable. Young people and young families want the same opportunities as the older generation.

Rural communities and economies can thrive if there are a mix of homes and the amenities and jobs to support all ages. The irony is that people bemoan the closing of the village shop or pub yet refuse development which would bring in more people and space to support local businesses.

Where development has been allowed to happen, it thrives. Houses and apartments get snapped up, as our development The Old Printworks in Frome in Somerset demonstrates. Similarly, Rolle Gardens in the coastal Devon town of Exmouth, which will see the creation of thirty-three new homes on a brownfield site, has had really positive responses through the planning process due to Acorn’s level of consultation with local stakeholders and residents’ groups.

There is an opportunity to do more quality development. Regenerate underused and unloved space in rural towns and villages with a mix of sustainable homes, amenity, commercial and green space that can support and enhance existing and growing rural communities.

Elected members on planning committees should take note; the tide of opposition to development might be turning.