The problem raised by the disposal of commodities after consumption is as nothing compared with the problem raised by people who seek to prevent that disposal
An idle conversation in the pub while waiting for the football to start. “So, top three things that you hate?” Well, my instant reaction was “Celery, aniseed and oaked chardonnay”. But when I thought about it for a bit longer, and tried a more serious and less culinary list, I came up with:
- Deliberate deception
- Arrogant architects.
But the first is the worst one. Nimbyism seems to be stronger than ever these days, and it really, really gets my goat. Now, I happen to live in the centre of Bath. It’s a fabulous city, Bath – large enough to be interesting, but small enough to be friendly, and of course it has all that Roman history and pretty Georgian architecture (just don’t mention the Bath Spa project). Not unreasonably, other people want to come and look at the architecture, photograph the elegant symmetry of the Crescent (failing to notice the messy jumble of construction styles around the back), wander through Jane Austen’s favourite streets … Sharing the city with these tourists is a pleasure – okay, I get mildly annoyed by crocodiles of French teenagers, but still, there’s a sense of gentle pride in the place.
So, when someone knocked on my door asking me to sign a petition against the tourist buses, I was prompted into a diatribe against narrow-minded nimbyism. I live there because I enjoy it – and the tourists have just as much right to enjoy it as I do.
If you don’t want open-top tourist buses running past your window, then don’t buy a listed property in a world heritage city – go and live in suburban Bristol instead.
Perhaps it's because of the outrageous cost of property these days that property owners – and tenants, too – believe that proximity gives them extensive rights over neighbouring land. Although it is fair that immediate neighbours can comment on adjacent property proposals, the belief that this extends to anything at all within 500 yards of your front door is giving developers and planners unanticipated headaches across the country.
Take the case of waste facilities. Waste is about to be a hot topic. Changes to the landfill tax directive will make disposal a much more expensive proposition; government targets on recycling will demand treatment plants; and as technology marches forward, using waste as a fuel source is becoming increasingly viable. Civil engineers have recognised the need for new waste facilities (Building, 18 June) and such installations are being demanded as part of section 106 agreements for large-scale developments in London and beyond. Public opposition is interfering in a number of cases.
Our challenge within the construction industry is to convince these blinkered members of the public that having a waste facility in the neighbourhood is a good thing. For starters, design quality must be improved – less of the concrete bunkers, more involvement of architects in placing and treating them as part of the urban fabric. It's no good trying to shovel them out to industrial parks – waste treatment needs to be close to waste generators in order to be efficient and reduce the impact of transport and associated emissions. A little aesthetic consideration can go a long way here.
And so can management strategies that recognise neighbourhood needs – noise minimisation in residential areas, vehicle movement control in commercial areas – as well as the value of keeping people informed. (London Transport worked this one out some time ago: as soon as a Tube train stops unexpectedly, the driver will make an announcement to let passengers know the cause of the delay, if known, and a timescale for moving on. Now, the driver is not always accurate, but ill-informed passengers are happier than uninformed ones.) A combination of sensitive treatment and dialogue with the locals can overcome much initial hostility and antipathy. Of course, there will always be extremists, who refuse to be convinced that any change could be a good thing, but the sane majority should carry the vote.
As inhabitants of a modern first-world society, we expect to have good (smell-free) sanitation, efficient waste disposal, mobile phones, widescreen televisions – but all these services require infrastructure to support them. It’s up to us in the construction business to deliver that infrastructure in the most efficient way, and if that means that we have to “prettify” pieces of engineering in order to make them more palatable, then so be it. Anything to reduce the power of those narrow-minded nimbys.
Tanya Ross is an associate of Buro Happold in Bath