“NIMBYISM” causes intergenerational inequality

By Adam Bruton

We are sleepwalking towards Sunak’s disaster of social conservatism, and we shouldn’t try to dress it up as anything but that. This week marks the start of the last stage of the Conservative Party’s leadership contest. It is a testament to the Tories’ listlessness that the aspiring Prime Ministers are, by far, the least popular of all hopefuls. This enthusiasm deficit has led both candidates to toss out ‘blue meat’ policies to the dogs.  Be it unfunded tax cuts, unlawful immigration policy or flagrant attacks on trans rights -- Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss will promise anything and everything to win the votes of the unenthused Tory faithful.

Rishi Sunak’s plans for, or rather against, development and house building are perhaps his most dangerous. Ruling out greenfield development, he is committed to banning councils from granting planning permission for construction on the green belt, banning the sale of agricultural land for property development, retaining the ban on onshore wind and solar farms, and banning all re-wilding projects. Sunak tied this series of policies to a wider push for socially conservative values, asking, "what’s the point in stopping the bulldozers in the green belt if we allow left-wing agitators to take a bulldozer to our history, our traditions, and our fundamental values?"

For a Gen-Z member where property ownership is a pipe-dream, I find it disturbing that many of his supporters consider themselves liberals. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats’ first major success since the 2019 election, in Chesham and Amersham, was built on the same anti-development and anti-construction policies Sunak has embraced. No doubt those who oppose development would frame it differently, but whether NIMBYism is framed as an anti-woke crusade or a vague appeal to neighbourhood character, the result remains the same: the dream of owning the smallest of houses is increasingly a fantasy. NIMBYism is antithetical to liberalism, and now, for liberal values to become more widespread, we must fight against it.

The main goal of any liberal society should always be to maximise opportunity. We know that to enjoy the freedoms we have, we cannot be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. How then can those values be upheld, where one of the core facets of poverty – insecure and unsuitable housing – cannot be addressed by my fellow liberals?

NIMBY policy is often thought to merely prevent the proverbial new build: vast identities, poorly built two and three beds without character or history. In reality, anti-development laws make simple maintenance of the house an impossibility for poorer families. Houses with poor insulation, badly-designed interiors, or even just ugly outer facades, are left at the mercy of planning committees across the country to be designed worthy of repair, while their occupants freeze in the winter and fry in the summer. The small size of our houses, a further product of the heavy restrictions on development, leads larger families to struggle to find adequate bedrooms and bathroom facilities.

Beyond the problems faced by poorer homeowners, those unfortunate enough to have been born within the last 30 years, or those who have just moved to this country, will struggle to find a home they can afford. The average Londoner spends 50% of their monthly paycheck on rent. This cost is constantly rising, making saving for a deposit on a permanent home near impossible.

We have a generation of younger people, those who have already faced two of the worst recessions in modern history, and stagnant wages for 15 years, who will likely not get close to owning a home before they reach middle age.

Much like the idea that the Tories want to take us back to the 1950s, there is truth in one respect: record numbers of British young people are considering emigrating to find better pay and the chance to own a home. While we have had a steady rate of net positive migration since the 1980s, if housing costs continue to spiral, it will become increasingly hard to justify to the young people of this country that there aren’t greener pastures overseas.

Is this truly liberal? A society that drives out its young is unattractive to migration, entrepreneurs and families. Is there anything truly fair about a system that entrenches generational wealth at the expense of equality of opportunity?

Liberals must enthusiastically embrace aspiration. If we want to reach out to younger voters, those in poverty, and ethnic minorities, all of whom suffer disproportionately from anti-development policies, we need to get serious about development and fight NIMBYism.

This means steadfastly opposing Sunak and his ideals, and being the strongest voice possible for a pro-building, pro-development agenda. We must defend the proposition that a person in work should own their home outright -- not sacrifice more than half of their income on that privilege.

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