Friday, September 2, 2011

NIMBYs on the warpath

Warning over rural planning law shake-up which will allow developers to 'concrete over the countryside'

I left the following comment: "The simple fact is, even if we allowed 250,000 houses to be built every year for the next twenty-five years, it would use up less than 1% of the surface area of the UK (or less than one-tenth of land currently designated Hallowed Green Belt). So the lives of the under-40s are being ruined in order to keep house prices as high as possible, using the foul excuse that this is being done to protect a relatively tiny sliver of land. And anybody who knows about economics and agriculture knows that 'food security' is not an issue, we are in fact more or less self-sufficient in food and could easily produce a surplus."

Posted by mark wadsworth @ 10:45 AM (2203 views)
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25 thoughts on “NIMBYs on the warpath

  • But Mark, food security is not the issue. It’s the views — put a rabbit hutch up in a field at five miles and there will be hell to pay.

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  • Dude, true. A far bigger danger to our ‘food security’ (EU nonsense notwithstanding) is that farmers can’t get on with modern farming methods, which involves such monstrosities as “green houses” “poly tunnels” “barns” and so on.

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  • Mark
    >anybody who knows about economics and agriculture knows that ‘food security’ is not an issue, we are in fact more or less self-sufficient in food and could easily produce a surplus

    Where on earth do you get that from? Globally, food security is a massive issue, and at the moment we import 40% of our food, most of our energy used to produce food (increasing share of imports all the time), and almost all of our fibre, also agricultural in origin. It’s likely that we could be self-sufficient in food, but that’s largely because we had the wisdom to retain the greenbelt… it’s official justification in the first place see e.g. the article by Simon Fairlie in The Land, issue 4 Winter 2007-8. It’s true that the landed gentry have benefitted massively from this, the way things are set up, and that is a disgrace. But that’s an argument social and tax reform, not the abandonment of sensible environmental planning controls.

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  • sibley's b'stard child says:

    Nice work MW although I fear it is rather like lobbing a sausage into a vegan-only shop.

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  • @Sibs
    The point is that the apparent abundance of land is largely due to the fact that we have oil-based agriculture. If we had to use the land to fertilse and / or produce biofuel that surplus could easily vanish. Oil is probably a depleting resource, if not now as many analysts believe, then it soon will be. No-one has a crystal ball, but there is such a thing as precaution. If you read Fairlie’s stuff that I referenced you’ll see he actually favours mixed farming (ie with livestock).
    N

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  • NickB, we import a load of luxury food which we could not grow ourselves – oranges, wine, bananas etc, plus some food which other countries can grow more cheaply (or where their farmers are subsidised). But as far as staples go, wheat, potatoes, eggs, apples, meat, milk and so on, we can manage perfectly well. And what does bio-fuels have to do with anything? That’s a complete red herring.

    And your barb about “abandonment of sensible environmental planning controls” is silly, this is not an all-or-nothing choice between retaining the current dreadful system and literally concreting over the whole of the UK (that would equate to about a billion houses, it’s not as if we need to accommodate the entire world population). I’m all in favour of “sensible” and the current system is anything but. The 25 years @ 250,000 houses = less than one per cent is hardly terrifying, would it be the end of the world if we have to use the remaining land one per cent more productively? Do you not think that farming can become 0.04% more efficient each year to make up the difference?

    What your argument boils down to is saying to young people “Oil may or may not run out in the distant future, so it’s perfectly reasonable for you to be forced to overpay by about £100,000 if you just want a house to live in”. Or put it another way, if you or your adult children were given a 400 sq yd plot near where they’d like to live and given a choice “Built a house on it or rent it to a farmer for £5 a year” what would you do? Willingly pay some NIMBY an extra £100,000 because of a scare story that we’re all going to starve to death if a single blade of grass is lost?

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  • If we did not eat meat in the quantity we do there would be enough land to feed us, unfortunately asking people to lay off the cheap meat would be seen as a cardinal sin.. I do not believe there is a land shortage only a shortage of land owners not prepared to part with there land ( unless the price is right)

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  • nickb,
    When we no longer have an obesity crisis, I’ll start to believe in food security issues.

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  • Read FT’s Martin Wolf piece on Ruinous consequences of the land speculative cycle – “an increase in just 3 miles of the radius of London, would raise the capital’s surface area by 50%.” Hardly the end of England’s green & pleasant land.

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/8f06df9e-8ac1-11df-8e17-00144feab49a.html#axzz1Wt0LfKAj

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  • SBC, ta for back up, maybe lob HM one of those sausages?

    It’s a fair point though, you need ten or a hundred times as much land to get calories etc from meat as from vegetables, so we would boost our food self-sufficiency by about 100% if we only had meat three times a week like in The Good Old Days (or whatever the real facts and figures are, the whole issue is so drearily unimportant that I can’t be bothered looking them up).

    D, good point, aren’t the bansturbators also always wailing on that “30% of the food we buy in the supermarket ends up being thrown away”?

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  • Mark, I think the issue is your sweeping statement around food security and the over simplification of the problem this is going to have moving forward. We are simply not self sufficient in our food production, this is only going to be further compounded in the future when you consider that modern farming techniques currently rely on fossil fuels and that our import infrastructure which we rely on to make up for any short falls also relies on fossil fuels.

    I am not saying that the land couldn’t be better utilised or that the current planning laws couldn’t do with some tender loving care from the likes of yourself – grass here and there can certainly go. Certain grades of farm land probably should never be converted to housing, even if they happen to be opposite to [insert your favourite place with idyllic access to all the amenities you could ever wish for].

    A new technology revolution for farming would also be rather useful… but thats for another website.

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  • y’all
    Where did I say that we in the UK currently have a food security crisis? There is a global problem which we buy out of. Further down the line it is easy to see why we might start to have food security problems if we do away with our ag land. Biofuel is far from a complete red herring because the EU directive is forcing us to derive 10% of liquid transport fuels from biofuel. If you hadn’t heard about this, you soon will!
    In point of fact we import loads of our wheat from Canada because it is higher protein than our wheat, and so more suitable for breadmaking.
    Effectively by importing our food when others are starving we act as though rich people have more right to life than poor people. UK companies are also taking part in the current land grab in Africa, amidst the current famine there.
    But hey, sausage, whatever..!
    N

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  • I’m with HM @7

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  • Mark
    Of course I don’t think it’s reasonable for people to be forced to live in conditions of indentured labour to pay off a housing debt! But the overpricing of housing is because of credit conditions, not land supply, a point which you are (on some days) fully aware of.
    Nick

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  • Mark,
    & do you seriously believe that oil is not a finite resource?
    N

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  • NickB: “if we do away with our ag land”

    This is why we can never have a proper debate, because you misinterpret my common sense middle-ground position as “wanting to do away with ag land”, no I said that mathematically, even if we built houses like topsy for 25 years, it would only use up 1% of ag land.

    There is a balance to be struck between housing and ag land, it’s just that the NIMBYs want to stick with the status quo of 3% resi and 90% ag and I think that over a very long time frame, we might consider nudging that towards 4% resi and 89% ag land. That’s all.

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  • Oldfashionedbanker says:

    We really need to be thinking about the long term and big picture, I don’t necessarily think that building estates on green belt is a good thing because there is no will to upgrade infrastruture so it would mean people travelling large distances for goods and services, city living is far more efficient with all the public transport options, schools, police, firebrigade, hospitals already in place. We have plenty of brownfield and empty properties that should be targeted as a massive priority, although the hutches they created in the boom years are a total joke and are clearly nowhere near full occupation in my neck of the woods. (Up north)

    MOD land should definitely be up for consideration however, surely a win-win as more properties get built and the goverment gets some much needed cash in the coffers with land prices at near all time highs.

    Lastly second properties should be taxed at a higher rate stimulating more efficient usage, how many lay empty for large chunks of the year, the goverment should also consider some incentive (levy) on housebuilders to nudge them towards reducing the size of their land banks by actually building and selling properties on them instead of using them effectively as a speculative investment on the price of land increasing.

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  • Mark
    Thin end of the wedge. Actually your original post complains of the “hallowed greenbelt”, hinting that you would like to do away with it. Plus as I’m tired of pointing out the extra 1% figure is something of a misnomer because of the infrastructural requirements of development. If you had said that 1% of greenbelt land could be released for development, that would have started things off on a different footing, no?
    But I still fail to see: if the problem is the credit market, why do you think the solution is development land supply?
    N

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  • My father was a farmer and let me tell you there is no problem with self-sufficiency, the problem is all the distorting subsidies and interventions. For example, you’ll see the EU CAP encourage French farmers to grow maize, requiring almost free electricty to pump 24 hour irrigation, to turn into silage, to keep beef cattle in barns. Massively, massively wasteful of resources. Absolutely bonkers when totally free trade would see beautiful quality steak on all our tables from Argentina where cows can eat grass year round out in the fields, but high import tarrifs of 20% see that we spend more to eat worse produce. This crazy system costs each family 500 quid more each year in higher prices and taxes.
    We don’t need more land, that’s why there were land set aside schemes in the EU to reduce food mountains. We have surplus productive land and that’s why we have the luxury of being able to offer consumer choice for lower production methods such as organic and free range.
    Food security is a nonsense since no block of countries has a cartel on food production like oil. If Israel doesn’t want to sell us avacados, no problem we’ll get them from Kenya. We need only drop the import tarrifs to the developing world to trigger massive beneficial production and trade with Africa.

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  • Nick B @ 16…exactly what I was wondering too.

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  • mark wadsworth says:

    NickB, more ad hominems: “hinting that you would like to do away with [the Hallowed Green belt]”

    Where on earth did I say “I would do away with that”?? Answer = nowhere, I have NEVER said that.

    I merely stated as a matter of mathematical fact that building like topsy for 25 years would use up less than one-tenth of the HGB, which in turn covers about one-tenth of the UK surface area (i.e. roughly as much as the developed bits). That is quite simply true. Fag packet says 6.25 million houses divided by 12 per acre = half a million acres, plus add on a third for roads and stuff = 0.7 million acres, surface area of UK is 62 million acres.

    If you want me to rephrase that as “releasing 0.4% of the Hallowed Green Belt for housing each year for the foreseeable future” then fine, I talking maths here, hard facts, not some forecast about Peak Oil centuries hence.

    And what’s this blather about “infrastructure”??? If we build houses sensibly, i.e. in and around existing cities and towns and villages (but leaving plenty of space for parks and playgrounds) then it’s the same people using the same schools and the same hospitals. And if popualtion in one area increases, then yes, there’s more demand for schools’n’hospitals but there are more people there to provide education and healthcare. Housing doesn’t require “public services” PEOPLE do, and PEOPLE provide them.

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  • mark wadsworth says:

    OTOH excellent anecdotal, thanks, that’s always been my impression.

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  • OTOH @17, just as well your farming family background reassures you that we “don’t need more land”. My guess is that we would be truly fu3ked if we did. Still, it is good to know we can keep on building and have exponential year on year growth and it will all be okay.

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  • There’s a lot of nimbyism down here in the South Hams. It’s quite funny to read some of it, especially wealthy second home owners complaining about houses being built for local people who’ve been priced out by their mega London salaries. Of course, what they don’t like to think about is that the land their homes are built on was once ‘green’.

    The article referenced below is not untypical but only made national headlines because of who was objecting…

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1160876/Football-presenter-Steve-Rider-scores-big-goal-objecting-homes-poor-holiday-home.html

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  • Mark,
    What is ad hominem about interpreting your “hallowed greenbelt” jibe as being anti-greenbelt? Ad hominem means “against the man”. Since I haven’t said anything about you (why would I, don’t know you!) how can it be ad-hominem? If you want a sensible debate, as you claim, why not start by stating clearly what you are proposing, rather than a sententious slogan?
    As I’ve explained before, the “blather” about infrastructure is simply that point that if you just build houses, people can’t live in them. They need roads, water infrastructure, electricity etc etc. All of this uses up land and impacts on the usability of land and its various ecosystem functions and services. If you cut up the land with roads it supports less species for example. “Blather”? So 1% of greenbelt built over with houses is more than 1% loss of greenbelt amenities. Fact.
    Let’s have the “sensible debate”, I’m up for it. I think you’ll find that most independent energy experts predict peak oil in the next decade or two, incidentally. See e.g. Vaclav Smil (a peak oil sceptic in many respects), who concedes the peak of conventional crude is likely within 20 years. That isn’t based on futurology, but geology and the mechanics of oil exploration and extraction.
    Nick

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