by John Oxley
Wednesday, 23
November 2022
Reaction
16:30

Rishi Sunak bows to Tory NIMBY pressure

A minority of MPs are putting their own interests ahead of the nation's
by John Oxley
Please don’t hurt me, NIMBYs. Credit: Getty

Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government has seemingly conceded to its anti-housing fifth column. This week the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill was set to come before the House for a third reading. In response Tory backbenchers, led by the former cabinet minister Theresa Villiers, proposed an amendment seeking to end nationally directed housing targets and removing the presumption in favour of development from many planning decisions. This would, in effect, make it even easier for local lobbyists to stop development. It was NIMBYism entrenched at a legislative level.

This country desperately needs more houses. One estimate suggests there are 4.5 million households “in housing need”. For years we have failed to hit the government’s own target of building 300,000 houses per year. This lack of supply combined with rising demand has led to predictable results.


Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email

Already registered? Sign in


The last few decades have seen phenomenal rises in house prices, vastly outstripping wage growth — great for homeowners, terrible for those too young or too poor to have bought a house in the early nineties or before. Now even the highest earners struggle to find suitable housing, while the overheated rental market sucks away their income. For the poorest and worst housed, it can prove fatal.

The Villiers amendment would exacerbate this. If successful, it would remove the major stick which forces councils to build. Rather than liberalising planning to allow us to develop more, it would curtail it. The Centre for Policy Studies estimates it would cut building by between 20 and 40%. That would deepen the housing shortage, condemning millions to more years of housing misery. This itself constrains economic growth yet further.

The Government looks set to pull the vote. This is parliamentary management to avoid a defeat and seek some compromise with the rebels. Such a compromise will undoubtedly favour rich homeowners in the leafy shires, at the expense of younger voters and the economy. It is a capitulation to the worst parochialism of the Conservative Party.

The 56 MPs who back the amendment seem not to worry about this — only for the safety of their seat and the comfort of their ageing voter base. They claim to want to introduce nuance to the planning system, but this just means more local vetoes. They have no answer to the pressing problem of the housing shortage. Instead only deflections are offered: opposing even the brownfield development they champion in theory as soon as it’s in their backyard. They will shore up their vote at the expense of the country and their party’s future. Owning a home is one of the biggest factors in how someone votes, and if the party excludes the young, even the affluent young, from this it will wither.

The Tory Party achieved its biggest victories off the back of housing, from the building boom of Macmillan to Thatcher’s right-to-buy. Now it cannot even make the case for planning liberalisation to its own backbenches. If the party continues to be cowed by those who want to hinder building, it will deserve its elimination. Sunak might have avoided a parliamentary showdown with the militant NIMBYs, but the party and the country cannot avoid one with reality. The Tory Party needs to build more houses. Conceding on this means consigning itself to being a party of propertied special-interest, not popular success.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
8 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Matt M
Matt M
16 days ago

The last few decades have seen phenomenal rises in house prices, vastly outstripping wage growth

17% of the British population is now foreign born!
You can have reasonably priced housing or mass immigration. One or the other, not both.
Any writer who can produce a piece on housing shortages and not mention the last two decades of practically open borders is easily dismissed.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
15 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

Indeed, I’d even go as far as to say that it is offensive to the readers intelligence to exclude this point.
Hopefully one day we will see a policy where we limit immigration in any given year to 50% of the number of houses built the previous year.
I will not be holding my breath….

Last edited 15 days ago by Ian Barton
Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
16 days ago

The minority that are prioritising their own interests over the nation are the government and businesses that have imported millions of low skilled workers willing to work for poverty wages.
Business got to keep it’s profits margins up. Government gets to claim economic growth. Meanwhile the vast majority of the imported workers are earning well under the £40,000+ needed to become a net taxpayer. They are therefore a net drain on the state as well as suppressors of wages for those at the bottom of the pile.
To add insult to injury, the government failed to spend on increasing the housing and other infrastructure to accommodate the workers and their dependants. Health services, schools and every other public service is overwhelmed by demand. Again those at the bottom are worst affected.
Importing millions for cheap unskilled labour in to a country with a generous benefits sytem and free public services was economic idiocy that only benefitted big business, politicians. and the better off.
We have had years of net immigration in the 200,000- 370,000 range. Last year the government outdid itself by importing over a million. Until this madness is stopped, why should ordinary people be willing to suffer more overcrowding and loss of amenity through concreting over the country? The government will only come back again in a few years and tell them they have to sacrifice more.
We have a mass immigration problem, that has led to a housing crisis. Until immigration is dramatically reduced (I would suggest a ten year net zero moratorium to allow infratructure and housing to be built to catch up with demand) the housing crisis will continue.

Last edited 16 days ago by Marcus Leach
Dylan Regan
Dylan Regan
16 days ago

It’s all to do with ridiculous levels of migration. Cut migration down from 300,000 a year to 300 then suddenly there will be no housing crisis and England will have some undeveloped green land left. If mass migration continues England will die and there will be nothing but built up areas

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
16 days ago

It is facile to blame NIMBY pensioners for the rise in residential property prices. A largely bogus intergenerational conflict is being puffed up by the media. Upward pressure in the value of property, like all assets, is largely driven by persistently low real interest rates over the past 15 years or more. This is an international phenomenon, and certainly can’t be entirely blamed on NIMBY voters in the south of England. Immigration and sluggish levels of construction are second order factors. Powerful forces benefit from low interest rates and accordingly higher long term asset values. English pensioners are partial beneficiaries of this, as are their heirs. But they are not the instigators of low interest rates. That is a policy decision by Central Banks globally.

Last edited 16 days ago by Stephen Walshe
j watson
j watson
15 days ago

It’s arguably much more complex than the suggestive conclusion in the article or some of the comments that’s it’s prompted.
Firstly we’ve lots of Developers sitting on land banks with planning permission already granted not progressing because they, apparently, want to keep prices (and profits) high. That needs addressing. And those plans must have linked ‘planning gain’ for schools, transport etc.
I think we’d all agree migration needs to be controlled and more linked to where we have needs (whilst also doing our bit for those fleeing genuine persecution). Demographically though we have a problem. Our aging population will need the Care workers and Doctors/Nurses if they are to enjoy the fruits of longevity. We’ve underinvested in our own and this now cannot be correctly quickly. We can stop the development near our nice country town but then cannot complain if our local hospital is short staffed and there are no care workers to look after Mum. Furthermore we are behind many countries in AI development, which might hold out some prospect of squaring this problem. But also we shouldn’t over-assume how much AI might help with basic care needs in old age. No robot yet can help someone to the toilet or to wash.
At root of all this? – probably a real failure in joined up national planning coupled with honest conversation about choices. As we’ve seen only last wk our aging population has been insulated from the current turmoil via the triple lock, and not because it is justifiable but because it’s political expedient for a desperate Govt that has made a right mess of things

John Robertson
John Robertson
15 days ago

NIMBY’s are crucially those that support a policy but don’t want its effects near them.
Most pensioners in villages didn’t support mass population growth through immigration.

NiMBY’s are your pro EU pro Lobalist types that want uncontrolled borders but no housebuilding.

Let’s not leave out the other problems from uncontrolledd immigration, lack of sufficient reservoirs, energy generation, food production, increased CO2 from importing the same etc.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
15 days ago

Sorry to disappoint but there isn’t a shortage of houses.
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2022/06/30/no-housing-shortage-britain/
Look around you: there are houses going up everywhere. The actual problem is the cost of housing, not the physical numbers. Exacerbated by the declining average number of people per household.