A Theory Behind our Resident NIMBY’s


Inside the room where The Environment Court can sit Courtesy of
Inside the room where The Environment Court can sit
Courtesy of



NIMBY’s, love them or detest them they are always going to be there when it comes to Planning. Our most classic example is watching them come out of the woodwork every time the Unitary Plan is in the spot light. That said you can usually class NIMBY’s into three broad but semi-fluid categories:

1) Those with legitimate concerns

Once case would be a factory that has obnoxious emissions being set up close to an established residential area. Or (and usually the case) a badly designed and out-of-place mid rise apartment block (so 4-8 storeys) in an established residential area whether it already has mid rise blocks or a low density zone just up scaled. A close example of that was the Milford development recently approved by the Environment Court. Long story short it was eventually concluded that what was originally proposed was deemed out-of-place due to its height. After some compromises the heights were lowered and the development can now go ahead. Looking at the compromise the development is now back in character as the area will evolve with more mid rise developments over time.

When faced with NIMBY’s from legitimate concerns the situation can be often easily solved with all parties entering dialogue and not being stand-offish against each other. Often and sadly this means a date with the Environment Court to get that compromise. Milford went through this and most recently the Orakei Point development. That said there was also the case of NIMBYism for the sake of NIMBYism (see number 3) fouling the process as well which is certainly no help. Remove these kind of NIMBY’s out and 99% of the time you will get a compromise that is decent for all parties – in the end.


2) Surprised or Spooked

This happens all too often when people go NIMBY owing to either lack of information or lack dialogue (if you have fully notified consents). Auckland Council are no angels for surprising and spooking people with planning decisions and it happens all to often. It is a natural instinct to go into full defensive mode when dropped into a situation with no information at hand. Humans like other animals fear what they do not understand as we do not know what the effects will be up-on them. I have always said even if it is controversial be up front with all the facts straight away. Do not tell half-truths under any circumstances. People will nearly always (even if they are in opposition (or will be)) they are appreciative of the fact that the consenting authority was up front straight away with all the facts at hand. And that appreciation can extend and lead back to NIMBY cause number 1 and compromises fleshed out. In my observations 9/10 NIMBY issues with planning in Auckland comes from this situation – the people being surprised and spooked. A situation that can be easily avoided.


3) NIMBYism for the sake of NIMBYism

The Planetizen article outlines this kind of NIMBYism. People objecting for no real good reason because often “they hate change” (as one person said once at a St Heliers meeting during the initial Unitary Plan feedback rounds). These kind of people are your noisiest and will literally spam the heck out of the Main Stream and Social Media outlets. They as well as tie up Council Committees and all too often the Environment Court which grinds the processes down and waste people’s time and money.  In my observations you can not reason with them so do not bother. You can usually debunk them with solid actual facts – you just need to get through all the noise they generate first. I can think of five particular people in Auckland that would fall in this category – ironically four of them are elected representatives in Auckland…

This extract from Planetizen sums up point three rather aptly – albeit from an American experience

The Theory Behind NIMBYism

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 – 9:27am PDT by MICHAEL LEWYN

A recent Planetizen headline said: “Denver Planning Board Steamrolls Opposition in Rezoning Controversy.” I am guessing that the headline used the perjorative term “steamrolls” because neighborhood activists opposed the rezoning. The story summary was even more negative, using the term “top-down planning” to describe a city decision that actually expanded a landowner’s right to build on its property by allowing it to build five stories instead of three.

Why would anyone think expanding personal freedom is “top-down planning”? Probably because the author of the headline and summary shared a widespread cultural assumption: that we have a property right to veto whatever happens within a few blocks of our homes, even if we did not pay for the property in question.

Where did this idea come from? Probably from the perfectly reasonable idea that people are affected by “externalities” arising from how others used nearby property. At one time, this idea might have limited to the most obvious externalities such as odor and pollution from a factory.

But in the 20th century, zoning enabling acts and zoning codes gave city councils virtually unlimited discretion to regulate land development. Since city councillors have to run for reelection, they began to heed the voice of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) activists in their districts.

And because NIMBY activists had so much power over development, they used that power to interpret the concept of externalities so broadly that nearly anything could be interpreted as an externality. If a project is more affordable than the rest of the neighborhood, that is now an externality, because it could lower property values or worse still, bring in poorer people (who would not only lower property values, but create all manner of mayhem). If the project is more expensive, that’s equally bad: it could lead to something called “gentrification.” Even if the project is neither more or less affordable than the rest of the neighborhood, neighbors can always find an aesthetic ground to object: if the project is not identical to the existing monoculture, it is “out of character” with the neighborhood.

It therefore seems to me that the NIMBY veto has outlived its usefulness, and that neighbors’ “right” to veto nearby development has been so widely abused that it should be eliminated. The more difficult question (for me) is: what procedural mechanisms do we create to eliminate this veto?




Hmm the piece relates so well with the Unitary Plan and some recent planning decisions that have come about. However, NIMBYism points 1 and 2 can be countered if things are done right. Number 3 is a tad harder but it can be done – you just need a high amount of patience to do it.


2 thoughts on “NIMBY’s

  1. very well summarised Ben. As to answer the planitzen question about what procedural mechanism is needed. The answer is in your three categories of NIMBY’s, that is, divide and conquer. So when we label someone in the future as a NIMBY we only refer to those in Cat. 3 and don’t insult and belittle those in Cat 1 & 2 by calling them NIMBY’s. When we call people something that they are not, while may not push them into the other camp, you can be sure that they will now not support our argument.

    1. Good points raised there and I concur.

      When a planning situation comes up we will get the opposition cropping up as is expected in our democracy. So yep we “divide and conquer” and separate out the Cat 1’s and 2’s and begin talking to them straight away which means listen first to their concerns (and take notes). No belittling just listen then talk. Just like customer service when a customer is upset at something. Once they have gotten everything off their chest 99% of the time the Category 1s and 2’s will sit down and thrash this out with you as they want a mutual outcome for everyone.

      In all this even I from now on will be very careful casting the NIMBY term around. I will do my best in blogging not cast our Category 1’s and 2’s as NIMBY’s as they are not. As for Category 3’s well then that is something else entirely.

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