As Britain grapples with an acute housing shortage, one sub-section of society has become a lightning rod for righteous fury: Nimbys.
The term, which stands for “Not In My BackYard”, has become shorthand for militant localism, applied to community campaigners who throw sand in the gears of all manner of new developments, from house extensions to wind farms.
By contrast, those who partake in “Nimbyism” see themselves as the last line of defence against greedy developers looking for a quick buck, and fighting against an arcane and unfair planning system in desperate need of reform.
But Nimbys’ objections will often succeed; a well-organised campaign can stop a project in its tracks.
Here, Telegraph Money explains how to be an effective Nimby.
How can I find out about planning applications?
Property owners or developers will need planning permission from the local authority to apply to build anything from a single-storey extension to a small solar farm. These applications must be made public, so it’s relatively easy to keep abreast of the proposals in your area.
“Extensions make up over 90c of all planning applications,” said Martin Gaine, a chartered town planner and planning permission expert.
“The next most common is small developments, like somebody building a house in their garden, or a school being extended.”
A developer wanting to build multiple houses or a new block of flats on a plot of land will also need to go through this process. For applications for a major development, local authorities must publish a notice in a local newspaper and either post a notice on the project site that passers-by can read, or notify the occupiers and owners of adjoining properties.
Planning applications are assigned to a case officer, and members of the public then have an opportunity to comment on the plans. The deadline for comments is 21 days from the date a site notice is put up or notice is served on neighbours, or 14 days from when an advert appears in a local newspaper.
Parish and town councils have 21 days from the date they were notified to make an official comment.
Alongside inviting the public to comment, local planning authorities also have to consult any organisations whose interests may be affected by a proposed development.
If the development could mean an increase in traffic, for instance, the local highways authority will be notified. Natural England assesses applications that could affect wildlife, while issues concerning waste or pollution are referred to the Environment Agency.
Once the planning authority has what it needs it makes an assessment, it will write up a report recommending the development for approval, sometimes with conditions or obligations attached, or it will issue a refusal.
In either case, the authority must give reasons for its decision. Local planning authorities should usually make a decision within eight weeks.
The rules for a successful planning objection
If you find out a new development, neighbour’s extension or any other manner of projects are in the works that are going to affect you or your property negatively, there are certain rules you can follow to get your concerns addressed and, hopefully, resolved.
Don’t jump straight to an objection
Negotiation and compromise rather than outright objection can often be the best option, Mr Gaine said: “Too many objectors adopt a ‘scorched-earth policy’, when they would be better off accepting that a development is likely to go ahead, and trying instead to influence its final design.
“Ask yourself: could the project be altered in a way that meets your concerns? Perhaps you could encourage the council to impose conditions limiting hours of construction, for example, or to require the developer to improve the landscaping.”
Mr Gaine also said that discussing alterations with the developer directly, rather than through the planning case officer, is often the best bet.
“The case officer will only be interested if they think the concern represents a key planning consideration,” he explained. “So if you say to the case officer ‘Could you ask them to move that window’, and the case officer thinks it’s not causing you any harm, they won’t do it. They’ll only do it if they think it’s an important planning issue.
“Instead, you could meet up with the developer or the homeowner and say ‘Look, is there any way you could leave a one-metre gap to my boundary, or move this window?’. They might agree to plant trees to screen it.
“And a developer who thinks this is a good opportunity to stop this person objecting might well work with you.”
If you do decide to go ahead with a formal objection, you’ll need to detail the reasons why you believe the proposed building plans will negatively affect you – rather than just objecting to the idea of the plans. Mr Gaine said: “Make sure you properly understand what is being proposed – take time to read the application plans and documents.
“Rather than taking a scattergun approach and objecting on all possible grounds, think carefully about what exactly bothers you about a development. Be brief and precise rather than rambling and long-winded.
“Try not to be emotional – angry, ranting letters are not credible – you want to appear thoughtful and rational, not unhinged.
As your issues are going to a planning case worker, they ought to be directed at their level, according to Mr Gaine. “Limit your objections to planning considerations – design, impact on neighbours, parking, ecology – not the value of your home, the quality of your views or the impact of the building works themselves.”
Avoid burning bridges
“It’s important to take a step back and reflect on whether your concerns are reasonable,” said Mr Gaine. Is the sound of building work a valid reason for your neighbour to never have the loft extension they’ve always wanted?
If you think your reasons for objecting are fair enough, be aware that it might burn bridges – so you might want to be careful of your wording.
“Remember objections are public,” said Mr Gaine. “You’ll have to live beside your neighbour long after you have objected to their planning application – don’t object in a way that poisons the relationship forever or starts a dispute.
“I have had cases of neighbours keying each other’s cars, or avoiding each other in the street.”
Don’t ‘bulk object’
According to Mr Gaine, residents banding together to try and halt a small planning application is rarely effective. “Starting petitions and copying and pasting other objections can come across as ‘contrived and overly-coordinated’,” he said.
“Objections are best if they are spontaneous, and if each objector expresses their own concerns in their own words.”
Submit objections on time, to the right place
Planning objections can be submitted in a number of ways, and can be as simple as clicking a button on the application.
“The easiest way to submit your objections is to go onto the planning pages of the council’s website,” Mr Gaine said. “There’ll be a button to bring up the application so you can see the plans, and another button to click if you want to object. You can just type in your concerns directly there.
“Or, you can write a letter or email the planning email address. Make sure to include the [application] reference number so it reaches the right person.
“Although the council will set a 21-day deadline for a response, it must consider any representations made before it reaches its decision, so don’t worry if you have missed the cut off.”
Planning applications may change after you’ve submitted your objection, but Mr Gaine said the case officer should be able to tell you about that. “Keep in touch with the case officer so you are aware of any revisions made to the application and to be sure they understand your concerns.
“If you are very concerned, you can contact your local ward councillors for support and advice. You can also hire a planning consultant to represent you.”
Are there any other ways to tilt the odds in my favour?
The majority of planning applications are signed off by senior planning officers in the local authority, but in some cases the decision will go to a committee of councillors instead.
If this happens, the approval decision will be made at a public meeting, where anyone in attendance has the right to make a short speech.
This method of decision-making works in a Nimby’s favour, according to Mr Gaine.
“Most planning applications are decided by the planners, under ‘delegated powers’. But where the strength of local feeling is strong, they can be sent to the planning committee of elected councillors for a decision.
“Councillors are more likely to refuse permission than the technocratic planners, so it can be a good idea to find out what the council’s criteria are for sending applications to committee.
“You’d have to contact the council to find out. In extremis, you would need to do a Freedom of Information request, but it should be publicly accessible.
“It’s something they try to keep a bit quiet, as if everyone knows that you need, say, five objections, then people will just make sure there are five objections, one way or another. The authority doesn’t want the system played with.”
What happens if my objection is upheld?
If planning is refused, the developer will decide whether they want to give up altogether, resubmit the plan to the council with revisions, or appeal.
If they appeal, the decision is taken away from the council and given to the Planning Inspectorate.
This independent body reviews all the evidence previously submitted to reach a decision. If the appeal is successful, then the project has planning permission and can go ahead. If the plan is refused then it is the end of the road for that proposal, as it has been refused by both the council and the appeal inspector.
“Victories can be pyrrhic, and you may find yourself objecting again and again as the applicant keeps trying to get their proposal through,” Mr Gaine said. “If the application is resubmitted, you must object again.”
If the application goes to appeal and is approved, there’s no straightforward mechanism in the planning system for a further objection or appeal.
“As a last resort, you can go for a judicial review – an appeal to the High Court – as you can with any decision by a public body. But this route is costly and impractical,” Mr Gaine added.
What happens if my objection fails?
If a project gets given the green light despite your objection, all is not quite lost.
“Even if a project has been approved, it won’t necessarily go ahead,” Mr Gaine said. “Some people get permission and never build it, some get permission and then try to sell the land or property – planning approval is valid for three years.”
If work starts on a project, then it’s too late to influence the plan. But you can still monitor the development to make sure it’s carried out in accordance with the application.
“A lot of developers make an extension or property slightly bigger than they should. If so, you can contact enforcement and get that sorted.”
This tactic came into play when one of Mr Gaine’s clients had a neighbour who was building a large basement extension in Kensington & Chelsea.
“I said ‘Look, you’re not going to win [the planning objection], so your best bet is to focus on trying to make sure the council is strict in applying its conditions – the hours of operation for the excavation works, and the need for a basement impact assessment to check that there won’t be anyone home.
“You can also require them to do a construction management plan so you can see where they’ll put the skips and where they’ll remove debris.”
‘Getting involved early in the local authority’s plans is crucial’
When it comes to opposing plans for thousands of new homes, few have more experience than Rosie Pearson.
In 2021, Ms Pearson founded the Community Planning Alliance, a group of over 700 grassroots campaigns fighting to preserve urban and rural green spaces.
“We oppose anything from 40 houses at the edge of the village to a garden town of 20,000 homes,” she said.
“It’s not just housing, people are fighting against incinerators, roads, airports, pylons – anything in the planning system that people think is bad for the environment or foisted on communities without properly being thought through.”
Ms Pearson, who has been dubbed “Queen of the Nimbys”, became a campaigner after a group of wealthy landowners brought a proposal for a new town in Essex, backed by the Government. Before long, two more towns had been added to the proposal.
In 2020, after years of lobbying, the plan to build 46,000 homes was slashed to just 9,000.
“We successfully argued the plan was so flawed, so broken, and that they couldn’t fund all the infrastructure that was needed – and they kept glossing over that.”
The same advice applies to opposing plans to build big towns as single buildings. But Ms Pearson says that getting involved in the local authority’s plans early is crucial if you’re trying to block a large development.
“Make sure you get involved right at the beginning of the process, even before the planning application is submitted,” she said. “If a plan arises for a new town, a local authority will start with a ‘call for sites’. They ask all the landowners ‘Who wants to get rich?’ and put land forward.
“Then it goes through three or four years of refinement, trying to create strategy and policy around it.
“Communities need to be watching their local council news to see what’s happening. By the time you hear about it, a site for a development might already have been allocated in a council’s local plan.
“Once this happens it’s very hard to say no to it, because it’s gone through a whole checking process to see if it’s suitable and sustainable.
Ms Pearson and the Community Planning Alliance are currently opposing against a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) – the term for a much larger development project, which can include motorways, electricity pylons, nuclear power stations, runways or wind farms. In this case, it’s a National Grid project to run 180km of electricity pylons from Norwich to Tilbury, crossing Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, to carry green energy generated from wind farms in the North Sea.
“We’re super supportive of that,” Ms Pearson said. “Wind farms are great, green energy’s great – what we’re saying is every time a wind farm’s built it asks for a connection onshore and National Grid gives one without any sort of coordination.
“You get a horrific spider’s web of cables under the sea and then it makes landfall and is damaging – trees and hedgerows are torn up. And then they need to get this power to London and the South East.
“We’re saying it’s absolute madness, keep it off land for as long as possible, and make one big grid rather than this piecemeal approach that’s so damaging.”
If a planned development is designated a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), the decision goes straight to the Planning Inspectorate, instead of working its way through the local authority. The inspector will make a recommendation, and the Secretary of State will get the final say.
How can I object to an NSIP?
Objecting to larger projects works differently to more standard planning applications.
Understand the proposal
“With NSIPs, the crucial thing is to check if the project accords with the national policy statement on that infrastructure – the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)”, Ms Pearson says.
The NPPF is a set of government guidelines for land use and development in England, promoting sustainable development, housing, economic growth, and environmental protection.
Before you object to the planning inspectorate, make sure you understand the NSIP proposal and its potential impact on the local community, environment, or interests.
Review all available documents, including the Development Consent Order application – the legal permission granted by the Government for major infrastructure projects – and Environmental Impact Assessment reports.
Wider community support can be important for halting a project the Government might already have set its sights on.
Ms Pearson said: “Start to make noise, get a campaign group and pull people together, fundraise, get a Facebook group, have a public meeting.
“Lobbying is important. It’s about persuading the powers that be to change tack, and make things uncomfortable for people – the council, local politicians and government.”
Ground your objection in planning policy
When objecting, clearly reference the specific policies within the NPPF that you believe the NSIP proposal does not comply with. Explain how the project may conflict with these policies.
Write a well-structured objection letter clearly stating your concerns. Be concise, factual and specific. Include your name and contact details.
If you have technical or scientific evidence that supports your objection, include it. This could be studies, reports, or expert opinions.
“It’s a twin-track process – shouting and evidence,” Ms Pearson said. “You can make all the noise in the world you want. But if you don’t get the evidence right it won’t change what’s being proposed.”
“Make sure that what you’re not doing is jumping around saying ‘I don’t like it, it ruins the view, it affects my house price’ – that will get you nowhere.”
It can also be helpful to present an alternative to the project that’s being proposed; those in charge might be more willing to back down if they can see another option.
“With the pylons, we’re saying the problem with what’s being proposed is that there was no consultation about potential alternatives,” said Ms Pearson. “There are laws that you must present options and alternatives, rather than presenting something that’s already been decided
“The Community Planning Alliance always tries to focus on what the positive alternatives might be. For the pylons, we got some experts together to find a better solution. Instead of saying, ‘No, that’s rubbish’, we’re saying, ‘It’s bad because of this and that, and there’s also another way of doing it’.”
Submit the objection
To have your objection officially considered, you must submit it to the Planning Inspectorate.
Information about the consultation period – which varies depending on the project – and how to submit objections, will be provided by the project developer or the Planning Inspectorate.
You can also request to speak at the examination of the NSIP application, giving you an opportunity to present your objections directly.
Get legal advice
If you believe your objection raises legal issues, you may want to seek legal advice or representation.
“If you can afford to do so, definitely fundraise for a planning consultant or a planning barrister,” Ms Pearson said.
“With the pylons, for example, we have a really well known ex-planning barrister on board. We’re using him sparingly at the moment, but when it comes to examining the plans we might well ask him to help.”
Stay updated on the progress of the NSIP application and any decisions or changes. Attend public meetings and consultations to continue expressing your concerns and monitoring the process.
Bats, newts and badgers: The planning laws bringing Britain to a halt