You’re familiar, I assume, with the acronym NIMBY. Literally “Not in my back yard”, it refers to any group of people who don’t want things built near them because, well, they prefer fields and trees and chemically contaminated flood plains and so on.
You’re probably also used to the fact that, by virtue of being pushy and enthusiastic and well-established in their community, NIMBY pressure groups find it easy to get their voices heard, in a way those who’d benefit from new housing development – younger, poorer, more transient – do not.
What you may not have realised, though, is quite how far those back yards can extend, when NIMBYs put their minds to it. Here’s a picture of the Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond Park, in south west London, with a group campaigning to protect that park’s view of St Paul’s Cathedral:
— Sarah Olney MP (@sarahjolney1) December 14, 2016
A youthful and dynamic group, I’m sure you’ll agree.
What they are protecting, exactly, requires some explanation. London contains no fewer than 13 protected views: legal requirements built into the planning system to ensure that certain buildings are visible from certain places. These have a direct knock on effect on what you can build where: you won’t get planning permission for anything that blocks the view of the Palace of Westminster from Primrose Hill, for example.
The protected views. Image: cmglee/Wikimedia Commons.
One of these protected views is the vista that looks from King Henry VIII’s Mound in Richmond Park to St Paul’s Cathedral. Basically, Olney and her gang are fighting valiantly to defend that gap in the trees.
It’s quite hard to spot what they’re looking at, so let’s zoom in. I’ve circled it in red to help you. Here’s the view in all its glory.
Thanks, Sarah, what would we do without you.
So, basically, these campaigners all trying to protect a rubbish view of something 10 miles away that you can barely see anyway. That seems silly enough, in a city with this sort of housing crisis, but it’s actually worse than it sounds.
That’s because the protection afforded by the planning system doesn’t just stop developers from building something between Richmond and St Paul’s: it also stops them from building anything behind it that may make the view less pretty. It’s not enough to be able to see St Paul’s: these nice old people don’t want to take the risk that they can see anything new at the same time.
Where does your back yard end? If you live near Richmond Park, 15 miles away it turns out.
This problem may be silly, but it is not theoretical. From Paul Wellman at Estates Gazette:
Six high-rise projects in Stratford could be in jeopardy due to a historic viewing corridor from Richmond Park.
Architects Allies and Morrison have confirmed their proposals for 30- and 40-storey towers, as part of the Olympicopolis proposals, are to be redesigned and reduced in height.
This comes soon after conservation charity Friends of Richmond Park called on London mayor Sadiq Khan to halt the construction of the 42-storey Manhattan Loft Gardens, E20.
I’m not going to bore you by quoting figures about the scale of London’s housing need for the thousandth time. I’m not going to bang on about the other various ways in which we tie our hands as to what we can build or where.
I’m just going to note, very simply, that even at one of London’s largest brownfield sites – an area which the government has spent a fortune on reviving, which has some of the best transport connections in the whole of London – development is being stymied by a bunch of old people 15 miles away who don’t want to take the risk they might just about see a skyscraper behind St Paul’s when they’re out walking the dog.
And the local MP is on their side.
We are never going to solve the housing crisis in this country, are we.