Friday, 1 April 2011

Unfortunately Feeling Compelled To Be A 'Nimby'

For those unfamiliar with the term, 'nimby' comes from 'not in my back yard' referring to people complaining about developments in their area.  Such an attitude has caused immense problems for the UK and is one reason why we have a shortage of prisons, drug rehabilitation centres, social housing, wind farms and even graveyards.  UK residents despise change.  They do not like 'others' coming into their area.  This was noticeable in the new town, Milton Keynes, where I used to live.  The town is laid out on a grid pattern and one-by-one over the past four decades these grids are filled in with new housing.  The trouble is much of the housing is very middle class, fine for people who can afford it, but it has meant that shops like Tescos have to bus in lower-paid staff from Luton, 27 Km away as none of them can find affordable accommodation locally.  The sensible solution seemed to be to build social housing in one of the grids close to the large shopping centre in the South-East of the town.  This was too much for the residents of neighbouring grids who went and vandalised equipment on the building site in an attempt to stop social housing coming anywhere near their middle class enclaves.  It is fascinating how such residents portray the potential newcomers as feckless, drug addicts, alcoholics, noisy and dirty.  They do not connect them with the people who serve them their luxury delicatessen items in the supermarket or clean up when one of their offspring makes a mess.  The main concern for the residents was that the value of their houses is sliding as a result of these social housing areas.  There is no sense that if the supermarkets close for lack of staff then the price will fall anyway.  In Milton Keynes the districts are divided by dual-carriageway roads on which most of, cars travel at 70 mph, which is as good a ghetto forming barrier as any.

Having seen such a narrowly focused 'nimby' response and utterly despairing over the virulent attacks on wind farms in the place of nuclear or coal-fired power stations, I am always careful not to fall into that trap myself.  Yet, on a small scale, I find I have done and consequently feel like a hypocrite.  My own consolation seems to be that I am not actually stopping progress like most nimbys, but that I am trying to reduce a quite clear contribution to crime in my street.  I have moved the location of the computer in my house so that I now sit in a room facing out over the street.  Dead opposite the window is a detached house built in the 1920s.  It has been empty for over three weeks now.  It was split into two flats, both rented out by a local social housing company.  The residents moved out more than three weeks ago and a few days later all the windows were stripped from the house and the front door was left open.  We had assumed that the windows would be replaced.  However, as time has passed nothing as been done to the house, it has not even been boarded up.  Of course, this offered too much temptation to drunken men coming back from the pub and twice over the weekend they decided to simply walk into the property and trash it.

Despite the house being vacated a lot of things had been left behind including a vacuum cleaner, a fridge and the cardboard tubes from the interior of carpets.  These were distributed all over the street.  Inside the vandals did a pretty good job of stripping the plaster and breaking up interior fittings.  Naturally we rang the owners and they said they had no concern as the property is due to be demolished anyway to provide access to a new close that is going to be jammed in behind the current line of houses.  What this is going to do to the already congested street I live on, though for not much longer, I have no idea.  Of course, if cars went down it at the legal 30 mph, then it might be alright, but no-one seems capable of keeping their speed down that low or wait for people coming on to negotiate around the lines of parked cars down both sides of the road, leading to lots of incidents of shouting and horns hooting.

After the second occasion I telephoned the police on their non-emergency line.  Being a low crime area two officers arrived as fast as they would have done to an emergency in many towns.  The perpetrators had fled.  Despite this nothing has been done to the house, it still remains full of debris (we pushed the stuff that had been thrown into the street back into its front garden).  My concern is less with the damage to the value of the property, as we have already sold it, but the hazard such a derelict site makes.  Are companies not obliged to board up empty houses?  These days the average building site is surrounded by defensive fences and is usually covered in alarms, though I gather that is more to dissuade people from stealing the scaffolding than from discouraging people from trespassing.  I know that development and letting companies are powerful in any town, their kind of people tend to fill councils the length of the country.  However, I have been surprised that there is no legal requirement to make a derelict property secure especially when it is so close to inhabited properties.  The house will be a wonderful refuge for rats and a source of bricks and other debris for vandalism elsewhere; the police officers expressed concern that cars parked within metres of the house would be damaged.  My concern is that the property will be burnt down; perhaps that is what the company is hoping in order to save on demolition costs. Whilst it is detached house, one wall lies less than a metre from an inhabited house, ironically owned by the same letting company.

These circumstances have turned me into a reluctant nimby.  I hoped the police would put pressure on the company, but days passed without change.  I contacted the local forum which seems to be a one-man organisation for complaining about students.  However, the forum's chair welcomed my complaint and it seems he has the ear of at least a few councillors.  The matter has to be raised at committees and so I imagine I will be long gone and the house burnt to the ground before anything is done.  I know that David Cameron's 'Big Society' is simply a sham to explain away cuts in local services, but it is bitter that, in fact, it is so apparent that at a local level residents have absolutely no control even over things that will be a focus of crime.  Developers and property owners are, as they probably always have been, the true power in a town and it allows them to ignore complaints and to adopt an approach that costs them the least even to the extent on saving on buying some boards and nailing them to empty windowframes for a few weeks before they get round to knocking the house down.  People complain that health and safety regulations are too obsessive, but it seems, that they can simply be ignored if that is done by those with money and influence.  Many people opposed the building of the new houses, saying they could not be fitted in.  I accepted that there was nothing we could do to stop the construction, but I do feel that in the meantime the derelict house should be made safe and not a draw for rats and vandals.  However, clearly, even that attempt at nimbyism is a step too far too succeed.

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