By Joanna Jadczak BA (Hons), MA Planning and Sustainability & Carmel Khalilian, BArch (Hons), MSc Building & Urban Design in Development
Development is both an exciting endeavour and a potential source of future conflict with your neighbours or fellow citizens, with possible consequences looming around the corner. Similarly, nearby residents and communities are often caught off guard when notices suddenly appear in the local newspapers or affixed to building facades.
Irrespective of the scale of the proposal, whether you are building a new house, or an extension to existing property, all development to some degree will affect individual neighbours, the wider community, and society as a whole.
Modern neighbourhoods are diverse, vibrant, challenging and filled with opportunities but often fear of change, lack of understanding of proposals, misunderstandings and lack of appreciation of one another’s goals, needs and/or aspirations result in friction and conflict between stakeholders too concerned with their individual objectives to see the others’ side, and overall the bigger picture.
The term NIMBY stands for ‘Not in My Back Yard’, and every once in a while, the NIMBY sentiment is indeed directed against a project that will impact someone’s back yard, however much more often, the ‘BY’ in the acronym NIMBY is metaphorical, as objections tend to concern something that will happen within a wider area expected to impact the day-to-day lives of those concerned.
New projects often generate fierce opposition.
The higher the density within a city, the more people likely to be affected by any development proposal, whether large or small-scale. New projects therefore often generate fierce opposition, prompting residents to object, even when these projects offer to improve housing provision and affordability, provide new jobs, or improve access to services.
Good neighbourly relationships, openness, transparency and citizen engagement can be a mutually beneficial and rewarding experience/process. Balancing competing aims and principles is key to achieving mutual benefits in cities undergoing physical and social change.
A dispute occurs when two or more parties seek to maximise their individual interests and achieve their goals. Disputes also often involve a lack of understanding of what governs these individual parties to seek planning approvals, and the perception that there is an incompatibility between these interests and goals coupled with no agreeable way forward.
Resistance against development is futile.
An example of this, one that we are all far too familiar with, is a dispute between two neighbours over an extension to one neighbour’s family home. An additional floor is proposed to satisfy the need for additional bedrooms for a growing family. This extension is likely to have an adverse effect on the second neighbour due to the proposed location, design, overshadowing or privacy concern; hence the adjoining neighbour raises objections seeking to protect his/her family’s amenity. The two neighbours see their interests and goals as competing and do not understand that both are valid, thus should be afforded consideration, as long as the proposal is acceptable in town planning terms and/or the reasons behind the objection are material considerations.
All these issues however, in most cases, are capable of negotiation towards an agreement. For example, the proportions, design and/or location of the extension may change, the windows may be repositioned or redesigned to protect privacy, issues of overshadowing resolved through design changes, wall heights may be altered to minimise the impact upon daylight, and at the same time the need for additional living accommodation be also satisfied.
How parties perceive each other, and the use of stereotyping also has an impact. Local
residents may view a particular application as just one more example of the greed of
developers who are dishonest and prepared to ignore or sacrifice the qualities of the
locality in order to achieve their aim. The developer may in turn expect resident
objectors to be unreasonable, obstructionist and never likely to be satisfied, thus taking the view that there is little purpose in discussing their concerns.
We ought to think about citizen engagement.
Although resistance against development is futile, contestation over proposals and city planning in general should not be suppressed if we wish to achieve a constructive process. Rather, we ought to think about citizen engagement, as whom better to provide invaluable information in respect of the local area and assist in identifying opportunities than those people who live, work and spend their leisurely time within these areas. For developers, access to this information and open communication from the outset is key to successful project delivery of schemes that meet the needs and requirements of the local population, without unnecessary delays, financial loss and a tarnished legacy. The objectors, on the other hand, irrespective of whether there is an open dialogue between the two parties or not, require a full understanding of the scheme and reassurance that their grounds for objection are valid in planning terms in order to approach the discussions, or in worst case scenarios, object to the proposal.
Expert advice is a key consideration to ensure that both parties act from position of understanding, knowledge and strength to achieve a form of an agreement.