How we can pay to make the Nimbys go away

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.

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.

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”

  • jbard

    yes Merryn Somerset Webb you are so right, bribery will usually shut anyone up long enough. The usual tactics of psychological threats, violence and propaganda take too long.

    • SteveN

      Yes, your usual tactics of psychological threats, violence and propaganda are all done at arms length by somebody else, muppet. You wouldn’t want to meet me up a dark alley, MUPPET!

  • camholder

    There is a certain amount of pain we endure for progress, I had the same thought but from the other side of the coin, while watching people protesting against some power station.

    Firstly: You don’t get to say no unless you have another viable solution. Don’t want t nuclear station next door? Fine! Will is be a coal station or wind farm?
    Second: If the answer is still no your community gets deprioritised for development. e.g. if you don’t want a any power station next door then when we start having brownouts your area is first.

    The bottom line is that you don’t get to say no to everything and then sit back and wait for other people to take the pain or have to come up with new ideas.

    • SteveN

      Its up to the government to come up with policies that benefit the people not benefit their own pockets. People who don’t want their quality of life destroyed are not all physicists and infrastructure development engineers.

  • Merryn

    It seems to me that if the infrastructure will benefit the whole country or much of it but a small number of people will lose from it substantially (either financially or in terms of quality of life) they should be compensated by the rest of us. Why should someone on the fast speed train line (with no actual stop) see the price of their house collapse while someone near the line and a station sees theirs soar through no cleverness or work of their own? It is an unfairness we can sort out while pushing through infrastructure.housing when needs be

    • SteveN

      That’s better MSW, was your main piece deliberately arrogant to invite debate, and incidentally, bring out a%&seholes like jbard?

  • Boris MacDonut

    Merryn If we closed all the public schools and turnes them into flats for those evicted by the Utilitarian infrastructure projects that would be good too.
    After all the use of such assets for the privilege of only 7% of the population flies in the face of your criteria for infrastructure benefitting the whole country.

  • Nick B

    But as opposed to solar farms that are an eyesore, or a high speed train that is noisy, fracking poses the risk of water contamination that could end up costing local people far more. Cameron keeps citing the N America as the picture of prosperity from fracking for gas yet Vermont has banned it out right, Massachusetts is on the brink. Cameron and Osborne’s yearning to foist this on the British countryside and public seems more to do with getting the fast cash into the country from companies wanting to invest. Where’s the due diligence on “England’s green and pleasant land”!?

  • jskinner

    The consensus of scientific opinion tells us that if we burn all the fossil fuel reserves that are already proven, it will cause an unacceptable rise in global temperature. The Government has accepted climate change as being a serious threat and undertaken to reduce carbon emissions drastically to avoid the consequences of burning too much of the global fossil fuel reserves. If you are aiming to go somewhere it is not sensible to start off by going in the diametrically opposite direction. If you want clean carbon free energy don’t invest in fossil fuels. We have limited resources of money and energy. We need to invest urgently, as much as possible of both, in developing renewable energy resources. It would be foolhardy to risk burning all the proven reserves of fossil fuels, so why waste time and money investing in exploring for new reserves, either in the UK or in the Arctic etc? Shale gas prospecting, and possible exploitation, will take up very large sums of money and energy which could be better spent, for example, on upgrading the grid to allow for relatively low-cost transmission of energy from exploiting solar energy through Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plants in the Sahara.
    In 2012 the 200 largest oil and gas companies spent $674 billion prospecting for new reserves, including shale gas. This is around 10 times the total amount invested that year in renewable energy. Similarly the subsidies given to fossil fuels are around ten times greater than those given to renewable energy. It is only the huge pressure from the vested interests of the immensely rich fossil fuel lobby which is preventing these figures from being reversed. Politicians do not seem to have either the knowledge or the willpower to resist the lobby and the money they have at their disposal.
    It is typical of this irrational behaviour that it is now suggested that the Government should try to bribe local Councils to override the understandable objections of their constituents to the prospect of having the countryside dug up to supply us with a few years of gas supply. This will leave a lot of mess and holes in the ground for our children, whilst passing to them the unavoidable task of developing new renewable resources, after we have used up all the cheap energy from fossil fuels that are relatively easily available and raised the temperature of the planet to create a host of new problems for them to tackle. Nobody has suggested bribing people to accept wind farms or solar panels.
    Incidentally it is a fantasy that shale gas will lower the price of gas nor will it help our energy security, although these are the two reasons most often given by politicians for exploiting whatever shale gas reserves there may be in the UK.

    • SteveN

      Spot on jskinner.

  • SteveN

    It isn’t always about money. Its about quality of life. We’re all entitled to it. Not just those rich enough to live in a money bubble. Your piece is arrogant elitism.

  • D Mid

    I can understand the need to commence Fracking. However the HS2 is a step too far as the gains will be far out weighrd by the cost and in recent years all our governments estimates of the cost totally are very short sighted and they generally cost much more. This project is not planned to be developed to Scotland and any further nort than Leeds leaving a lot of people not covered by any improvements in journey times. It is just Cameron trying to look good and nothing else because who knows where technology will have taken us by the 2030’s

  • John O

    Good article again Merryn,
    The Chinese and Norwegians have huge national wealth and a sense of patriotism.
    The Chinese can build and double their HS rail network in 6-12 years and build their own nuclear industry but it takes UK 20 years to think about it with endless selfish arguments and then buying overseas at huge cost.
    Meanwhile UK has massive debts, balance of payments deficits, created by so-called professional politicians who spend their whole life arguing and applying communist idealism and short term policies calculated to win them the next election rather than applying common sense and experience for the long term good of the UK. No wonder we are in decline and UK in break-up. So any practical short-term solutions are welcome, but also we need national plans of a long term nature to address the infrastructure and industrial problems drowning us as a nation.

    It is obvious to all except the nimbies McTrolls and greens above that fracking, and HST when complete, will be a benefit to the country. However the arguments that it could disproportionally also benefit foreign foreign companies and fracking benefit will be too short-term are correct. Our Governments must ensure that the profits are properly taxed and put into a Soveriegn Wealth fund rather than just used to reduce energy prices or taxes to win the next election.

    • Bayard

      John O, the Norwegians only have a huge sovereign wealth fund because North Sea oil revenues enabled their government to run a surplus, whereas in the UK they simply meant the government ran up less of a debt. Perhaps they have better politicians over there, less venal and greedy, but I doubt patriotism comes into it.
      The point nobody makes about HS2 is that a vast proportion of the cost is entirely due to the operating speed of the trains. Whilst the case has been made time and again for extra rail capacity between London and the North, that does not mean that there is a case for the trains to run at the proposed speeds. It’s all about having the fastest train in Europe, just like back in the 1930s. If the maximum operating speed was reduced then more of the existing formation of the disused Great Central main line could be brought back into use with the consequent savings both in civil engineering costs and the expense of purchasing land and disrupting communities that a new route brings with it. Without the obsession for speed, there could be intermediate stations palnned, which would boost property prices, not lower them.

    • Boris MacDonut

      John O. Chinese wealth is built on a short term advantage in cheap labour. Norway’s is the simple fact that they shared the North Sea Oil 50:50 with the UK but have a population of 4 million to our 64 million.

  • Tyler Durden

    Yay! Let’s bribe people to build on every available patch of land…..and then laugh at them as their houses get flooded on a regular basis.

    It’s not my problem that we have utterly squandered North Sea oil and gas and we’ve thrown away the advantage we had with nuclear power. Raping our country and making it uninhabitable for those very same people who made out like bandits with North Sea oil and gas is just not an option.

    I have to laugh at this phrase ‘nimbying’ over idiotic schemes like HS2 which provide no economic benefit whatsoever and is merely designed to keep the flow of pound creation from the Bank of England going. HS2 is moronic. End of story.

    Oh, and who is going to pay for all these incentives by the way. Hint: It won’t be the companies involved, it will be the taxpayer.

  • John O

    Agree with your point about the HST speeds. We need new railways but must cause minimum disruption if existing infrastructure available.

    The comments from others about UK not affording a national wealth fund from windfalls such as N Sea oil and Fracking seem to be much too supportive our politicians. I would point out that the way most of us organise our lives is to use a mortgage for the essentials like a house, whilst saving for pension and luxury items etc.. I would say that if our leaders were competent and had the UK interests in heart rather than just the next election then they would have done similar, and the country would have been a lot better off.

    It is obvious also that low wages are only a small part of Chinese success.

  • EthicalInvestor

    In any case of Fracking, where the local opposition is bought off through whatever hair-brained maniacal scheme, it addresses the real root as to whether this sort of rape of earth resources has any merit whatsoever.
    The Government with that weasel Cameron has been bought hook line and sinker by corporate bandits who care not one jot as to the future health of land or people. That Money Week seems to promote shale and Fracking as a “great investment” does not so much shock me as point me in the direction of really not wishing to listen to their solutions. Such partisan investment advice seems to continue the rape and pillage doctrine ad infinitum…..
    The ‘take your dosh anyway profitable’ mentality that is presently prevalent across the board of investment at any cost policies, is the very thing that refuses to look at or employ any sustainable solutions.

    If we are to move out of the criminal destruction of the present economic model then to replace it with more of the same is merely adhering to Einstein’s famous comment of doing the same thing over and over expecting change.

    Fracking is the ultimate poison to be inflicted on a people – through the very stuff of life – Water. To believe the fairy tales of so called ‘science’ – more truthfully ‘bought/dumb science’ is to remain a n unwhitting lemming awaiting the call to the cliff. The present incumbents across the Western world who swear by fossil fuels are nut cases at best, psychopathic at worst.

    To believe they have our best interests at heart is Pollyanna Land writ large.

    No political solution offered so far even comes close to addressing these issues – why? Because it is NOT their agenda. To suggest bribery as an answer, even in jest, places your credibility in the dustbin. Bribery has been the curse of ages. Continued support shows the flag you seem to promote and it is a vile one without excuses, madam.