Accepting and embracing NIMBYism for planning success - 52M Consulting Limited

Accepting and embracing NIMBYism for planning success

There will always be local people that object to new development simply because it's near where they live. As a developer, accepting and understanding these NIMBY motivations can help improve your chances of success.


Wherever new infrastructure development is proposed, there will always be a group of local people that object to it, even though they will simultaneously accept the societal need for such development.

Shale gas is an instructive, contemporary example of this phenomenon in action. People living close to proposed shale gas exploration sites very often say they accept that Britain depends on gas - and that they even use it to heat their own homes - but that they would prefer it if the gas were extracted somewhere else. Some also insist that we should just import all the gas we need from other countries, with little thought given to the fact that means communities in those places (that are often poorer and less well regulated) have to play host just so residents here can enjoy warmer living conditions.

Affordable housing is another good example. Ask people if we need to see more affordable homes built so that a greater number of young people can get a foot on the property ladder, and most will say yes. Propose a development of cheaper homes near them, however, and they'll likely oppose it.

Large-scale renewables like wind and solar benefit from high public approval ratings in national polls, but individual projects still attract their fair share of criticism and objection at a local level.

So, what drives this Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) mindset?

In our experience at 52M Consulting, it can be distilled down into three things.

#1 Fear of the unknown

There is without doubt an element of evolutionary psychology at play in the NIMBYism we all display - even those of us that work to bring forward new and necessary infrastructure.

We are wired to be wary of things we haven't encountered before and that we don't understand. It's a survival mechanism, and it's one of the things that has made humans so successful as a species.

#2 Issues of trust

When we fear something, we are naturally inclined to be less trusting. Take the fear of heights - no matter how much you're told it's been engineered so it's perfectly safe, there's always still part of your brain that finds it hard to trust those reassurances when you're about to step out onto the glass-floored viewing platform at Blackpool Tower or others like it.

But we're also a bunch of sceptics these days, thanks partly to the rise of social media. When a company that wants to build a new energy-from-waste site says there will be no negative health impacts for people living nearby, we instinctively think to ourselves 'well, maybe, but you would say that, wouldn't you?' on the basis of perceived bias resulting from vested interests.

#3 Health, wealth and happiness concerns

We've discussed this before in detail in one of our blogs, but in summary: if people think a development will result in adverse health impacts, they are likely to object to it; if they think it will materially affect their wealth (for which, in most cases, you can read 'property value') they are likely to object to it; and if there's a chance it will negatively impact their enjoyment of the place they live (whether that's because of visual intrusion, more traffic or increased competition for school places, GP and dentist waiting lists etc) then, again, they're likely to object.

And remember, they only have to think it for it to be true to them...

How developers can work with NIMBYism

Once you understand the motivations behind people's NIMBY tendencies, you can work with them in a variety of ways.

A crucial first step is to accept them and not dismiss stakeholders that display all the classic signs of NIMBYism. Acknowledge that, to them, their concerns are valid, no matter how irrational they may seem to you. Don't judge people for recognising the need for and societal benefits of new infrastructure, whilst maintaining a preference for it to be built elsewhere.

Then, build your stakeholder engagement campaign and public consultation in a way that sets out to overcome people's fear of the unknown, natural lack of trust, and concerns about health, wealth and happiness impacts.

For instance, it's all well and good publishing artists impressions of how a new waste-to-energy incinerator might look from various local view points, but why not hire a 16 seat coach and take a delegation of local people to an existing facility of similar size instead and let them see it for themselves? With the right planning, you could give them an opportunity to speak to the people that operate it about how they control things like noise and odour, and maybe even facilitate a dialogue with nearby residents who can give a real sense of what it's like to live nearby. If that sounds like a big risk because you'd have no control over what people say, think about it this way: your project stakeholders will trust you more precisely because you've taken that risk and will at least now have an accurate impression of what your proposals mean for their community, reducing fear of the unknown.

Your planning application might be accompanied by the most detailed Environmental Impact Assessment ever produced, but most ordinary people won't have the time, inclination or technical know-how to wade through it all and distil what's relevant, so make sure tease out the parts concerned with local health impacts, likely effects on property values, and any potential strains on local public services etc, then show them comparative information from other locations that have hosted similar infrastructure so people can satisfy themselves that their health, wealth and happiness will not be adversely impacted by your proposals.

In many ways, context is key.

But it's also really important to explain why it has to be built in their back yard and not someone else's. If you're proposing an onshore wind farm, you need to let people know that the location is determined by the availability of the right wind resource. That's the same if you're trying to develop a shale gas site (there has to be shale rock under it that contains gas) or a waste-to-energy plant (there needs to be residual waste arising locally that can't easily be recycled and is either landfilled or sent abroad), or a new housing development (you need to be able to demonstrate a shortage in new housing supply that can't be met by building homes elsewhere) etc.

Embracing NIMBYism and structuring your approach accordingly can help to overcome objections and build local consensus in favour of your proposals.

Remember to:

Accept that we're all NIMBYs at heart;

Remove fear of the unknown by showing people what your plans mean in context, using suitable reference sites elsewhere;

Take some risks, it will help you build trust;

Let people see for themselves, using real examples from elsewhere, that your project will not adversely impact their health, wealth and happiness; and

Explain why there and not in someone else's back yard.


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  • Lee Petts
    published this page in Blog 2019-04-19 11:51:12 +0100