Forced to choose between economic stagnation and new development in their backyards, communities are abandoning the nimbyism of the boom years

I’m odd, it’s true, but I find beauty in the functional. Perhaps it’s my architectural training. I accept, though, that sometimes industrial buildings can blight landscapes and neighbourhoods.

This is a common worry. Most designers dealing with planning issues are familiar with nimbyism. “Not in my back yard,” is a frequent knee-jerk reaction to unwanted building projects.

But attitudes change. Industrial buildings are playing a role in regenerating communities, and are now readily being accepted. I believe that “nimby” is morphing into “pimby” - “please in my backyard”.

A lifestyle choice

Nimbyism gained traction in the boom times. New development spurred growth, which contributed to demand for new development - a virtuous circle for the building sector. The trouble was that lifestyles began to change simultaneously. People aspired to live in exclusive places, and they cared passionately about who and what they shared their community with. So, although people knew we needed new houses, offices, roads and factories, they wanted them to be built somewhere else.

Eventually, the anti-development lobby became so dominant that we witnessed the birth of “banana” - “build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone”.

Views on planning aren’t quite so bananas now. Instead, the economy has become the main driver of opinion. People know we are living in uncertain times - investment is scarce, new jobs are few and far between and regeneration has all but ground to a halt. Public funds are drying up, so private investment is highly sought after.

The focus is, therefore, on job creation, investment in the community, local sustainability and how development can aid the economy. This is reflected in the changing narrative of the planning process. A diverse range of firms, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Premier Inn, Travelodge, SITA and Viridor, all now discuss job creation in their pre-application consultations, press releases and reports on development. Sainsbury’s, for example, claimed in its 2010 annual report that it had created 6,500 jobs in a year - largely because it had added more than
one million square foot to its estate.

The upshot is that people are becoming more accepting. Localism and the concept of empowerment, far from being a nimbys’ charter, have the potential to encourage positive local development. This trend towards people making decisions with their heads and not just their hearts could be a major fillip for our industry.

Take housing: last summer, the former National Housing and Planning Advice Unit tested a hypothesis - that a community was more likely to favour a planning request if they believed there was something in it for them. Research found people tended to support new homes in their area if they felt that local home ownership opportunities were lacking or if new housing would help their local economies.

Don’t get me wrong. We still have our fair share of nimbys and some developments will slip up on a few banana skins. That means we must continue to design buildings that are appealing, inspirational and fit in with their environment.

At the same time, industrial buildings are no longer the warehouses of dirty processes that they used to be. They contain the smartest technologies, are minimal in their energy use and emit little carbon. They innovate, educate and collaborate. They reflect our cultural and economic aspirations.

To me, the trend is clear. Resistance is giving way to acceptance - an open-armed welcoming of new development. That is, the role that construction can play in our economic revival is becoming increasingly clear. That has got to be good news for all of us.

David Rycroft is a director at Morgan Sindall Professional Services