The fact that the acronym of Not in My Back Yard has entered mainstream politics and the discussion of land management planning as a far too easy to use term of abuse is frankly bizarre.
The not so subtle meaning behind using this increasingly aggressively abusive term is that ‘no one has any right to criticise potential development which affects their landscape personally’ and if such views were to be included it would block economic growth. So what is being suggested is that at no point should an opposition voice be listened to because it is assumed they will not waver from their standpoint and the need for development is just too visionary to halt and too costly to listen to concerns.
Far too many believe ‘Landscape’ to be intangible in itself and too ambiguous as a platform for discussion. This does little more than highlight an ignorance of the substantial work which needed to be done, which resulted in the European Landscape Convention, to define landscape not just to allow the real benefits of a landscape approach to be used by everyone, but also in order to prevent further abuse of landscape as an idealistic political weapon.
Greg Clark ‘blogged’ immediately after publication of the NPPF about his admiration of the French system – using the phrase ‘Pourquoi faire compliqué quand on peut faire simple?’ (Why make things difficult when it can be done simply?), a phrase which has been examined in France as much as ‘I think therefore I am’ and is now only quoted in France as a parody of it’s literal meaning. But the implications of Greg Clarks’ use of the phrase appeared to lots of people people, including myself, to be much more sinister. The implication being a jealous nod towards the French grand infrastructure projects which see little opposition, they are just built. The parody asides, there is a huge cultural difference lost in the translation which is best illustrated by the fact that if you want to win votes or increase popularity in France you build a bridge or a nuclear power station, not go to war! This is rooted from the revolution, ‘La Gloire de France’ and is most evident in house prices with a view of a nuclear power station or immense viaduct – the view costs you more not less as it would in the UK.
The ‘Blood and Soil’ ideals of the Nazi party, where landscape architects encouraged ethnic cleansing in order to achieve an ideal landscape we must never forget. Landscape has the potential of becoming a very powerful and dangerous political weapon indeed if not well defined – particularly if missing the basic premise that landscape belongs to the people who are in it. Hence the importance of the ELC and why it is part of the Council of Europe – there are things we must never return to but the use of NIMBY as a term of abuse is a step in the wrong direction!
The French and Germans and many other nations looked towards the fact that UK localised opposition to schemes which affect their landscape would be listened to, with interest and envy, this ‘listening’ was perhaps the result of ambiguous and hated ‘red tape’. Championing ‘big society’ and localism at the same time as removing ‘red tape’ barriers has illustrated the fragility of the system creating a field full of loopholes for the legal profession to explore and which could swing the wrong way with ease due to a disparity in the financial situation of those involved.
The large NGOs, in particular the NT and the CPRE, who fought against the NPPF did so with the proclamation that they were not NIMBYs’, but were fighting for people in their place. Were these people the NIMBYs? Were the CPRE and the NT deliberately acting as guides – helping to temper the argument so that the final opposition statements were rooted in fact and followed a balanced view on things? If so what a useful and progressive mechanism as all too often huge costs are incurred because local opposition can get their facts wrong or more often are not fed the correct facts in the first place.
Post NPPF publication, what is clearly very much needed is either or both a strong presence from the NT and CPRE to ensure that the social element, the peoples’ voice, remains high on the agenda and a new system of communication re all land management planning for all landscapes so that people in their place can ask questions and be answered as transparently as possible.
And if any ‘developers’, property consultants or even government staff hoping to ensure ‘progression’ feel the urge to simply shout NIMBY at anyone who expresses concern or misgivings, they should realise that they are in fact slowing things down, because the UK, particularly England is a NIMBY culture and most of the world, (particularly those in developing countries fighting for the most basic human rights let alone land issues) are very, very jealous of this. The solution is to engage and to realise that the ELC in particular can actually help not hinder if taken at face value and the social element climbs back up alongside its sustainable development cousins, the economic and the environmental.