Recently, it has been hard to avoid the prevalence of NIMBYism in the press. Be it fracking, wind farms or HS2, there are continual protestations about some form of development somewhere in Britain, perhaps leaving some to wonder why we can’t just BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone). But whilst the action of voicing opinions about local developments may be as old as societies themselves, historically in Britain NIMBYism has its strongest roots in the 1980s, when the acronym (Not In My Back Yard) was popularised by Margaret Thatcher’s Secretary of State for the Environment, Nicholas Ridley.
Importantly, at that time, Thatcher’s message that ‘there is no such thing as society’ was spreading the notion of individualism around the nation. As home ownership increased alongside this, people began to take a heightened interest in what was being built around them. The value of their home became more important than wider social issues such as shortage of housing. This is crucial to the concept that generally NIMBYs do not oppose the proposed development per se, but take issue with the fact it is in their immediate neighbourhood and the negative impact it would have on their local area, be that more traffic, pressure on schools and hospitals, or spoiling their view.
Recently one of the most high profile forms of development that has come under attack from NIMBYs is wind farms, thanks mainly to their visual impact on our landscapes and the noise that they generate. As something which arguably serves a greater good (provision of clean, renewable energy), the dispute about them provides an excellent example of local people protecting their own interests above those of the wider society, highly reflective of individualism even today.
When considering why NIMBYism still prevails today long after the end of Thatcher’s government, it could be argued that our current legal system makes it fairly easy for people to challenge certain planning decisions. The 2011 Localism Act, whilst seeking to encourage development by transferring decision-making power from central government back into the hands of local councils, communities and individuals, looks to have made it simpler for those people to stop development. Furthermore, in June 2013, the government introduced new guidelines giving local communities the power to veto plans to build wind farms in their area, with the Prime Minister calling the debate over wind farms ‘a real local issue’, despite the positive effects they could have for the nation as a whole.
However, although such examples suggest an increase in the power of NIMBYs, we should consider the fact that the huge local opposition to fracking is not being met with the same sympathy or action from the Conservative government as the issue of wind farms. Thus whilst the notion of individualism was a factor in the rise of NIMBYs, today NIMBYism is heralded as ‘localism’ when the issue will aid the leading party, and ignored when it won’t.