Sympathy for the NIMBY

We need to upgrade our railways, and HS2 is necessary. Nevertheless, I find myself sympathizing with those who will see the track pass closely to their homes. We reject their protests as NIMBY’ism, but I think that misses the point.

As species we have a strong sense of place – a sense of the ‘specialness’.

My Australian wife and I had two ceremonies of marriage – one at Avebury Stone Circle, and one on the beach where she grew up.  These two beautiful places are special to us. They resound with meaning for us. They are viscerally part of us.

I remember watching Fran Armstrong’s The Age of Stupid, in which a woman who has opposed a windfarm is lampooned for her short-sightedness in wanting to combat climate change, while stopping renewal energy.  This otherwise excellent and thought-provoking film also missed a vital point. The woman – middle-class, middle-aged, white and ‘involved’ – is environmentalism’s natural constituency.  If we can’t convince her, then we are in trouble.

The expansion in windfarms in Wales, and the resulting new overhead power lines, is another case in point.

I think we need to appreciate the position of the Nimbys. We need to acknowledge their objections as more than just expressions of self-interest.

People should be allowed to grieve for their lost homes – woods chopped down, valleys drowned, hillsides plundered.

Their grief may be unavoidable for the common good – but it is real. It is an essential part of our humanity.

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