Nimbyism NOUN
not-in-my-back-yard-ism
the practice of objecting to something that will affect one or take place in one’s locality

We British love our scenery and countryside – it’s the thing we say that makes us feel proudest as a nation, along with the NHS and a few other institutions such as the armed forces. But we need to build – the vast majority of us agree there’s a housing crisis. The Government has a goal of 300,000 new homes each year,110 there are numerous nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) in the pipeline and both Labour and the Conservatives are announcing further huge infrastructure investment.

But will nimbyism get in the way? On first sight, no. In a survey earlier this year we found 52% support the building of new homes locally, up from 40% five years ago.111 Nimbyism, it seems, is in retreat.

Public support for local home building increases if it is affordable, social housing and if any necessary new infrastructure is built at the same time.112 This underlines the conditional nature of opinion, evident in the public being keen for infrastructure to be delivered in a manner which ‘protects’ as well as ‘progresses’. The public are swayed by the aesthetics of housing developments113 and, in London, its height (people there take a pretty dim view of tall towers), as well as the outcomes and impacts it has.

According to this year’s Global Infrastructure Index, supported by the Global Infrastructure Investor Association, the British are supportive of the local building of infrastructure – including housing, transport, digital and energy – by a margin of 62% to 7%.114

As with publics across 27 other countries, Britons warm and cool towards building depending on different factors. These have such an impact that levels of support range from 20% to 78%, as shown opposite.

While Britain is a relatively more sceptical country – ranking 21st out of 28 in terms of in-principle support for building – we’re as high as fifth if the infrastructure is environmentally friendly overall, but bottom of all 28 countries if building means an increase in traffic and congestion, and involves ‘greenfield’ i.e. land that had not previously been built on.

Another important factor is the type of infrastructure. We asked about new housing, new roads and new rail, and found global support for housing greater than that for road, then rail. In Britain, the gap between support for housing and other sorts of new development is a little wider, with rail ahead of road in the popularity stakes.

What does all this mean? A better description than nimby, or yimby, is that the British are probably more ‘maybe’. This survey, and our new ‘Nimby Index’ provides insight into the British cultural context, and how we differ from other countries in our attitudes.

Previous Ipsos MORI research has found Britons wildly overestimate the extent to which the country is already developed, and are instinctively supportive of the ‘green belt’, despite not knowing much about it or where it is. Our imagined Britain is green and pleasant, and we are worried about overdevelopment, but also where our kids will afford to live.

Reassurance about local greenery being preserved and traffic kept under control will be important if Britain starts investing in housing and infrastructure in a major way. Currently, Britain’s infrastructure ranks eleventh in the world.115 In 2019 our politicians have made a series of promises: we’ll see how quickly these get turned into action on the ground.