Merryn's Blog

How we can pay to make the Nimbys go away

The best way to deal with objections to new rail lines, home or fracking wells is to buy the Nimbys off via a negative land tax, says Merryn Somerset Webb.

Currently, if your life is ruined (and the value of your house destroyed) by the building of a new infrastructure project near you, there is little or no compensation available. It's just considered bad luck.

That, of course, is why we are such a nation of Nimbys.

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Why agree to put up with new trains/roads/housing estates/fracking wells when there is nothing in it for you? Instead, you will just oppose it as much as possible for as long as possible. It makes sense. That's why we aren't getting on with fracking, and why it is verging on impossible to build enough new houses in the UK.

But there is an easy way to make Nimbyism go away: a negative land tax. Imagine if you were out there Nimbying about HS2, or a nasty new wind farm going up in clear sight of your hill-top cottage, or perhaps the way that fracking was about to ruin your sense of rural idyll. Would you complain so hard if you never had to pay council tax again, or got a cash lump sum? Or if the tax benefits (and lump sums) came attached to your house, so that should you prefer rural peace to money you could sell it at a pretty price and move on? My guess is that you would not.

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We've written about this idea frequently (see my last post on the matter here and other views on the land value tax here). But interestingly and pleasingly it is becoming a little more mainstream.

Alice Thompson almost gets there in the Times today talking about how "the Norwegians have always understood that their citizens should benefit directly from energy production". The result is a five-trillion krone fund for the people, and a nation that sees its oil rigs as "part of its heritage". But a national fund isn't enough, given that it treats everyone equally. What we need is wads of cash for those directly affected.

More interesting is a piece in the Guardian (to which my attention was drawn by Paul Goodman of Conservative Home) which suggests that not only will local councils be able to keep the all the money raised from shale-related business rates but that "direct cash payments may be made to homeowners living near fracking sites". Friends of the Earth reckons this marks a "new low" in the government's attempts to "curry fracking favour". We reckon it could be the beginning of a very useful debate on who benefits from infrastructure change, and how.

P.S Goodman also points to this piece by Alex Morton that discusses the need to give local people around new housing estates "incentives for those closest to new homes to compensate them for loss of view"




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