A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through Nextdoor, an app and social media platform for neighbours to connect and share information based on their location. For those unfamiliar with this, Nextdoor is probably best described as Facebook residents’ groups gone wild. Not my favourite place to be on the internet, but I’ve only recently moved into my current area of London and I’m nosy.
There was the usual fare. A mixture of missing animals, requests for decorators, and the occasional whinge about closed roads. I usually scroll past without a second thought. However, on this occasion I saw something that gave me pause for thought. A headline in bold and all caps read:
“6 STOREY BUILDING WITH NO PARKING MUSWELL HILL RD AT JUNCTION WITH WOODSIDE AVE”
No parking? Oh the horror!
I can’t say it was sympathy that made me pay attention.
I read on. It claimed the development would cause a “parking crisis” if allowed to go ahead. Fourteen car parking spaces would be lost, it went on to state. Furthermore, the planned buildings were “atrocious” and there was the classic objection of being “out of keeping with the area”.
And then, the final nail in the coffin for me was a comment that read “it is for social housing, so a good cause, but current plans ignore local impact”. The author might as well have literally used the words:
“Not In My Backyard’ or NIMBY for short.
It was this bit that really enraged me. I work as a Caseworker for two Members of Parliament in two London Boroughs. My job is trying to help people who are so desperate, who have tried every other option, that their last resort is to seek help from their MP. One of the biggest and most frequent issues by far is housing.
Now, I have many friends who know a lot about housing policy. I know people who look at the data and statistics in great detail, and who engage in debates with people about why most people my age will never be able to own property. I am not one of these experts. I have no idea about the detail.
But what I do know is that we simply do not have enough affordable places to live. I have dealt with too many people who are living in terrible conditions, properties in serious disrepair. I am sick and tired of telling people that they will have to use their living room as a bedroom, because they simply don’t have as great a housing ‘need’ as other people.
Every single person deserves a safe, warm and comfortable place to live. That should not be a controversial statement. Yet we’ve reached such a shortage that local authorities are put in the terrible position of having to tell families that there’s a waiting time of over 15 years for a property with enough bedrooms for their children.
Of course, unsuitable accommodation is only one issue. How can children focus on their schoolwork when they have no quiet place to study; when the block that they live in is a hotspot for anti-social behaviour because the front door is regularly damaged? How can anyone build a life in one place when their ceiling suddenly caves in and they have to be moved to temporary accommodation on the other side of the city?
Housing is more than just a place to sleep. It’s a place to live, a base from which to take advantage of opportunities. It should not be a luxury but sometimes, especially doing the work I do, it feels like it is.
It is for these reasons why I found it so enraging to see this kind of NIMBYism on my local Nextdoor social network. Social housing is great. But…not here. My car goes here.
I had a look at the plans for myself. 41 new properties, 32 of them let at social rent levels. 32! I couldn’t believe that so many new council properties might be built only an 8-minute drive from my house. The design didn’t look too bad, certainly not as jarring, and different as some blocks I’ve seen. Nor what I would describe as out of keeping with the area.
As for the parking, the plans included five wheelchair-accessible spaces. That was my last possible worry alleviated. I went straight to my council’s planning website, hoping I wasn’t too late, and wrote a comment informing the authority I support application “HGY/2021/2727”.
I’d never done this before, engaged with the planning process. As a 23-year-old renter, I’d never stayed long enough in one place to feel part of a community, the kind of person who should comment on these things. But this time I did.
To be honest, and without any research to back this up, I have to say that the entire process felt loaded towards objections. I remember being given several easy options to click for issues with the plans, but not very much at all in favour.
I wrote something short about the need for good social housing, with a reminder about the need to reduce private car journeys for good measure and submitted. Mine was the first comment in favour.
After a few YIMBYs (‘Yes In My Back Yard’ – those in the pro-housing movement in contrast and in opposition to the NIMBYs) I know spread the word, the application now sits with five supporting comments. And over 170 objections. Now, I’d like to think that more than five people in my borough would be supportive of this scheme, but the planning process does not seem set up to hear from them. Planning is too often associated with a ‘bad’ thing that must be fought, rather than a way for local residents to express what they want in their area.
At the time of writing, no decision has been made on this development. I haven’t got my hopes up, if I’m honest. NIMBYs are very well organised, and some political parties feed the beast as a way to win support. But if I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s that I need to speak up more. I’ll be checking the Major Developments of my council’s planning website more often from now on. And hope other supporters of new housing do the same.