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Infrastructure First

Along with wet weather, April came in with a blast of Nimby v Yimby hot air.


 So far this month, we’ve learned that Keir Starmer has “declared  war on nimbys” -- armed with data showing strong backing for building among target voters, he doubled down on his party’s pledge to build on the green belt.



The New Statesman told us thatNot all Yimbys are your friends” and are, in fact a broad but unstable coalition of interests that “believe different things about regulation, about the market and the role of developers, and even, to an extent, about what the point of housing is”



And we learned that London’s 32 boroughs, often celebrated for their distinctiveness and diversity, are now defined by their nimby or yimby characteristics.


Meanwhile , flowing in among the same newsfeeds were several stories about places which have been struggling with some unplanned fallout from new housing developments


The Independent reported on “how the planning system is creating ‘soulless’ estates as communities are promised facilities that never come”. Citing new housing developments in Somerset, Stockport, Kent and elsewhere that were promised schools, GP surgeries and other community infrastructure that never materialised.

The Telegraph reported that “a lot of people are quite angry” about  “Life in a town with 10,000 new homes and little else”. It described how “the UK’s biggest new town since the 1960s has precious few amenities – and the development is testing local infrastructure to the limit”, referring to Northstowe in Cambridgeshire and how L&Q estates, developer of a planned 26,000 home new town there, has “failed to provide promised local amenities while at the same time destroying local wildlife and ecosystems as a result of construction of the new town”.


Exploring more local stories, I learned that residents in the north Lincolnshire town of Kirton Lindsay were concerned when planning consent was given for a 350-home development on a former RAF air base “with no developer cash for community infrastructure”. A local councillor said that while he generally supported the development, he was concerned about the building consultants that provided an independent financial viability report for the proposals, which concluded it was not viable unless there were no affordable homes, or infrastructure funding contributions expected of it under an S106 agreement.


Another councillor suggested the Council had changed ‘Welcome to North Lincolnshire' signs to say developers did not have to pay S106 cash. He sharply criticised fellow planning committee and developers trying to get out of S106 cash contributions -- "I think it's scandalous. It's not just you I'm having a go at, it's all the other developers. It's wrong, it's scandalous, it should not be allowed."




"without proper infrastructure, any housing development will rightly be met with public resistance and ultimately fail to serve the needs of both existing and new residents"



Is this considered nimbyism? I wondered, and so, citing the CPRE report, I asked a few self-described Yimbys what they thought. Robert Colville, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies, responded to my query:



Infrastructure first! Is this something we can all agree on? That bridges the nimby-yimby divide? The low hanging fruit of planning reform?



Like many great ideas, it’s all about the execution. And before that, it’s about building trust. And this is where the challenges to Infrastructure First lie. To cite a few examples:


1.   New housing estates where residents have to foot the bill for public space: last week an investigation revealed how new-build homeowners have been told to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) before they can see details of fees they will be charged for local amenities. According to the Homeowners Rights Network, new build homeowners are paying more than £1bn a year in estate charges as local authorities increasingly refuse to manage public spaces. A spokesperson for the Network said


“If people had were told they were going to have to pay to manage an estate that’s public, to basically do the work the council used to do, and the cost is open-ended because it costs what it costs, they might be quite reluctant to buy”.



2.   Unused CIL money: reports of communities where CIL/Section 106 monies have been collected but not invested in local infrastructure abound. In Harrogate, residents have yet to see the community facilities promised and as one resident put it, “with all the new housing destroying the last of the fields, and new houses having tiny gardens, we will need a public park”. In some cases, CIL money has been spent on providing affordable housing, and not on the local amenities originally promised.


According to the Home Builders Federation, local authorities in England and Wales are, on average, sitting on over £8 million in unspent developer contributions. In a recent report, it stated

“from a sample of 171 local councils who provided data following a Freedom of Information request, more than £1.4 billion remains unspent, including over £280 million specifically earmarked to provide much-needed Affordable Housing for local residents. Extrapolating these findings out across local government suggests that almost £2.8bn in contributions from the private sector are unspent.”


3.   No planning for healthcare to support population growth from development:  Amidst a national shortage of GPs, this is perhaps one of the greatest challenges to delivering an Infrastructure First policy. For something so essential, a lack of healthcare provision is often overlooked amidst other resident objections to new development. This week saw many disparaging comments about locals in Faversham, Kent who have objected to plans submitted by the Duchy of Cornwall to build 2,500 homes. While the plan is to be commended for its design and sustainability features, as one resident said “'the biggest concern is medical provision. It's really tight here, and the population has already increased considerably due to a number of other developments on the outskirts of town”.


Examples like these show how both the promise of infrastructure and its avoidance can erode trust in local communities undergoing new development.


Infrastructure is usually, but not always, provided as a public good, and is both the salve that heals the real or perceived harms of local development, and the beacon of hope that development will improve local circumstances. Often it’s a combination of the two, and to be effective as either salve or beacon it needs to involve local people in its design and delivery. Too often developers and councils see providing local infrastructure as a burden, a risk to be mitigated rather than the opportunity it presents to involve and improve the lives of local people.



It's also regarded by many as a chicken and egg issue – do people follow the infrastructure investment or does it follow people? In an era of tight housing, when planning permission pretty much guarantees an influx of people, I’d say the risk of no people is nil, so infrastructure must come first.


Will the yimbys and the nimbys join forces in an Infrastructure First movement? Stay tuned.





Clare Delmar

Listen to Locals

12 April 2024


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