This article is taken from the October 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.
I read with interest Andrew Orlowski’s “Don’t bulldoze the bungalows” (AUG/SEPT) which skilfully punctures the dream of consensual “Yes In My Backyard” advocates — YIMBYism.
He is of course right, and anyone who doubts him can get near-daily reminders in the form of the escalating costs and dwindling length of HS2, which may not reach Manchester (or central London).
There is no magic solution to the opposed interests of those who need homes but cannot afford them, and those who control the housing supply. Where Orlowski comes off the rails is his casual assumption of the intuitive correctness of one side of the argument — the NIMBYs.
We’re told that YIMBYs are sneering metropolitans who despise good honest Barrett home-dwelling Middle Englanders. Housing supply, we are informed, is no issue — “we’re enjoying a 30-year housing boom”. And that the problem is housing demand, which is primarily a consequence of immigration. He also complains that YIMBYs envisage doubling the size of villages without additional infrastructure.
But what this account misses is the degree to which policy is weighted towards inertia and against development.
It’s not only housing that gets blocked by NIMBYs, as the HS2 example shows. Taxpayers are milked for the high price of building schools, roads, hospitals, rail and other vital services. Cambridge recently spent £2.4 million on a roundabout. Thanks to local busybodies, one London borough is still strenuously attempting to get a local Catholic school torn down. Where I am from, a much-needed cemetery wasn’t built because of concerns about traffic.
NIMBYs aren’t just objecting to new housing developments, they’re objecting to the very infrastructure that Orlowski claims YIMBYs aren’t planning for. He claims the public “really want … detached and semi-detached housing”, when what he actually means is this is what middle-aged couples want.
Young professionals (the primary class of YIMBYs) want to be able to buy a flat affordable enough that they can save for that suburban home. They want the option of flats large enough to start a family in, or just spacious and affordable enough to comfortably live in whilst they start a career or pursue further education. Why are these demands deemed ideological, while the desires of older homeowners are identified with the common man?
Entirely missing from Orlowski’s piece was the very much not ordinary class of homeowners in the south east, granted an unearned windfall thanks to the economic success of London. Far from his vision of retirees desperate to downsize, housing wealth is disproportionately in the hands of older people and retirees, with even poorer pensioners very likely to own their own homes.
The elite among this class own either multiple homes, or a very high-value property, and are often landlords themselves. They have a direct economic interest in keeping housing prices artificially high and have every incentive to oppose any development, including local services, which could have a negative impact on their primary form of wealth. In short, can we please, for the love of all that is holy, start building stuff again?
David Butterfield (A TALE OF TWO GLASTOS, AUG/SEPT) writes about how the Glastonbury Festival “has strayed far from its countercultural roots” but that “a genuinely countercultural, performance-driven, people-powered festival can be resurrected”.
Or perhaps it must be erected elsewhere? Glastonbury is the culture. It has existed for more than 50 years. One might as well expect Private Eye to become scathingly satirical or Ian McEwan to lead to the next wave in experimental literature.
Another fine mess …
“Camus saw bourgeois Europe as possessed of a death-wish,” writes John Ritzema (OUR TRUE EUROPEAN HOME, AUG/SEPT), “wallowing in nihilism. He prescribed a values-driven cadre of European intellectuals and writers to ‘leaven the mix’.”
And what a fine job such intellectuals and writers did. Bourgeois Europe in the age of Camus was only ankle-deep in nihilism compared to our times. Perhaps we should have listened to values-driven intellectuals and writers a little less.
“The best way to make Twitter less toxic is to make it clear that online tantrums no longer work,” writes Helen Joyce (HOW TO SURVIVE TWITTER, AUG/SEPT). Without online tantrums, what is Twitter for?
Leeds, West Yorkshire
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