NIMBY is NOT a badge of honour

Posted 10 September 2015

NIMBY is NOT a badge of honour

by Kirk Coningham OAM

Canberras highly educated, articulate and courageous community leadership is one of the citys proudest attributes - but all too often it is also a curse.

The dauntless effectiveness of well-connected senior and former public servants who understand the ways of government and politics can be a monumental millstone to the city state.

In Canberra NIMBY seems to be a badge of honour. Yet NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) is a pejorative term that refers to people who put self-interest ahead of that of the community.

They know that development and growth is an essential part of any thriving community. They know that urban renewal brings a higher quality of life to more people. They know that densification in the Territory is an essential policy that delivers better services and a better quality of life. They know that, within a generation, land supply in the ACT will be exhausted and urban infill is the only way we can cater for the increasing population that is the very definition of a modern, healthy, growing community.

They know all of this, and applaud it, except, of course, if it personally inconveniences them in any way.

The trouble with Canberras NIMBYs is that they are extremely effective. And the trouble with a long succession of Canberra governments is that they too often bow to the vocal minority.

The cost of the loud mouth and receptive ear is difficult to quantify but is far greater here than in similar populations.

The reality is that any complaint, no matter how self-serving or ill-founded, can and will stop development in its tracks in our fair city.

The worst possible outcome in brown fields applications is that builders and developers just give up. We know that tight margins cant survive even small delays. This is particularly true in the leafy reserves of Canberras well healed senior public servants. The wide streets and generous blocks are the exclusive domain of the privileged.

These are the people who feign shock at the lack of housing affordability as they sip their unwooded chardonnay and file objection after objection if a twin-cab comes within cooee of their manicured nature strips.

They deserve to enjoy the spoils of a life time of hard work. Live it up we say. But spare us the hypocrisy.

The real lesson is for Government. In truth its everyones right to object to whatever it is they dont like. Thats democracy. But when Government bows to the powerful chardonnay set routinely, if not exclusively, the best interests of the community are ill-served.

The power of the NIMBY even extends to green fields. The famously ridiculous solar envelope provisions of Variation 306 were born of a NIMBY home owner whose lunchtime sunshine was interrupted by a next door development.

The justifiable affront extended into totally unjustifiable nonsense when planning rules designed for the large flat blocks of inner city suburbs extended to the compact sloping blocks of the urban fringe.

The call of the NIMBY echoes loud enough to further drive up the prices of already barely affordable housing.

Until Government learns to identify the difference between the bleating of our full throated and deep pocketed NIMBYs and the valid concerns of the broader community, the Territory will miss out on the huge benefits of modern development and design.

The amazing New Acton precinct is a case in point. This globally awarded bit or urban planning genius is part of our city today because of the sheer tenacity of the developer whose vision ultimately carried the day despite a plethora of NIMBY road blocks and planning farces.

We suspect if you asked them if theyd do it all over again, knowing what they were in for, the answer would likely be a resounding and emphatic no.

Its time for a policy and planning approach that muzzles the NIMBYs and empowers the rest.

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