Is there a way to placate the anti-housing Nimbys, even if we can’t bring them on board, writes Noah Khogali
If the local elections proved anything, it’s that none of the major parties are, at present, capable of weaning themselves off of the Nimby vote. The Lib Dems, Labour, Tories and Greens all opposed local house building as an electoral tactic, further plunging young people deeper into the abyss that is the UK’s chronic housing shortage. To appeal to the younger generation and incentivise Nimby voters to allow new housing developments in their communities, lawmakers must generate new ideas.
One way is a nationally organised community benefit fund scheme for rural towns or villages, to support new development without losing the Nimby vote. Funds like these are typically used by wind farm developers to redirect some of the profits of their development into a pot of money for use on local community-led projects. Whether they are used to fund a new village hall, start-up grants for small local businesses, or higher education bursaries for local people, the funds mean those who struggle to see the long term benefits of a development receive a tangible and immediate financial benefit for their community. If many communities are willing to sacrifice their view in the form of a new wind farm, for investment in their communities, they are likely to do the same for housing developments. By replicating this policy in a housing context, lawmakers could convert—or at least placate—voters worried about developments.
This is especially true in rural areas where people maintain a strong sense of community. Too often, government and charitable development funding focuses on cities and urban communities, leaving rural communities feeling as though they are paying the price for development and rising populations without seeing any benefit. Many in rural areas consider house building a burden imposed on them that yields no local benefit.
There would, for this to work, need to be give and take on behalf of both the government and developers. Developers would need to stump up extra cash to make it work, and will almost certainly argue they can’t afford to do so. According to a report by the Home Builders Federation, extra taxes and regulation add around £4.5bn onto developer costs every year. To convince builders to pay even more, the government would need to agree to reduce those costs by at least 25 per cent. If it becomes easier to build in rural areas, developers would be able to construct more homes and create bigger profit margins for themselves, even if it does cost extra in the short term.
In the last year, there were 205,000 homes built across the UK—95,000 short of the government’s target. If the government and developers contributed £5,000 each into a community benefit fund, per home built in a community (presuming the 300,000 target was met), then it would result in a £3bn investment in local communities across the country, at a cost of £1.5bn to the government. For context, that is less than 1 per cent of the NHS budget. The money could be given to the local Community Council (or local authority to spend on community initiative projects within the affected community), to ensure that it is spent as close to home as possible.
In the run-up to the next election, attitudes to house building will be key to winning the young, professional vote. Community benefit funds may be our best option to allow communities to immediately invest in projects that matter to them and provide a clear, tangible benefit to housebuilding for those who aren’t able—or willing—to see it at the moment.