Yes, It Maximises Builders’ Yields

It’s sometimes said the most effective conspiracies are those where all involved know what they need to do so well, they don’t actually need to conspire.

I’m beginning to feel something of the sort is going on with the “yimby” movement, much of which has degenerated pretty much into a media campaign in support of the building and development industries and, notably now, house building on green belt land.

You know, the sort of areas where builders like to waste land by building huge, expensive homes at ultra-low-densities, the sort they find most profitable.

And now guess what? According to the Daily Telegraph, the Government is poised to “rip up green planning laws in a bid to kickstart house building”.

“Green planning laws will be ripped up by Liz Truss in a move that could see new homes built on protected land (with) plans for new ‘investment zones’ that encourage building,” it says.

Has no-one told ministers the market is softening and builders are going into land-banking mode? Maybe they wouldn’t understand? Maybe they wouldn’t care?

It now seems curious that both Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak made ritual statements about protecting “The Green Belt” (they didn’t specify which one) during their leadership campaigns, even as the yimby campaign intensified.

Well, we’ll soon see whether this is all just rhetoric, Whitehall news management, hot-air before a snap general election or if they really mean it. Ominously, it could be the latter.

I’m not even going to single out the flaky neoliberal think-tanks that have spent the summer leading this campaign, even if they do seem to be effectively running the Government now. They evidently have pots of money with which to mislead sympathetic media.

Let’s wait and see what crawls out of this rotten woodwork in the days to come.

Meanwhile, let’s remember “yimbyism” began in the early 1990s when an American academic wrote a paper proposing a move “from nimby to yimby” at a time the disastrous effects of US hypersprawl were being recognised and there were cautious but sensible moves towards urban densification. At that time “nimbyism” hadn’t become what it’s become on both sides of the Atlantic – a term of abuse for commercial interests to hurl at those who try to protect their local environment from their greed.

Yimby was originally supposed to stand for “yes in my backyard” and that may have made some kind of sense given the size of US exurban “backyards”. But the term really achieved very little traction until the 2010s.

Some well-meaning people continue to use it over there – many American cities still need densifying – though it’s been disheartening to see the Smart Growth philosophy used to promote some of the most extreme forms of high-rise residential development.

But this should have been a warning. Commercial interests very quickly saw the potential in a term ascribing altruistic motives to naked financial greed.

That the angry young men of our own yimby movement have spent the summer pushing green belt sprawl rather than urban “gentle density” really tells you what you need to know.

Jon Reeds