Saint disagrees with university claim that NIMBYs don’t exist

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By Mike Saint, The Saint Consulting Group

NIMBYismAs consultants who have worked on land use project battles in the US, in the UK and in Canada and who have conducted national public opinion polls in all three countries for several years, we disagree with the conclusions of the University of Manchester study described on NIMBY Experts Aug. 4, headlined “Nimbies do not exist according to new study”.

Our research shows that the average person does have a favorable attitude toward clean energy projects, like wind farms, but that support in theory often shifts to opposition in fact when an actual project is proposed nearby. The latest Saint Index demonstrates this with 82 percent of those surveyed who responded that they accept a wind farm in their backyard, with no tangible local project motivating their response.  However, that is not reflected in 82 percent turnout of supporters who face a real project in town and respond with the passion of a perceived “threat” of change coming to their community.

We have found the same “I am in favor of them, but not here” NIMBY opinions are often expressed concerning home building, supermarkets and hospitals by those who can best be described as classic NIMBY’s. While some who live nearby a proposed wind farm and who oppose it do voice legitimate questions and concerns, — which should be thoughtfully and fully addressed by the developers — these claims are often voiced simply to give the NIMBY opponent a less selfish basis for opposing the project.

We tend to place more credibility in the environmental and safety concerns, questions and claims by individuals and groups who live nowhere near the site and whose motives therefore are less suspect. NIMBY to us is more a broad, socially scientific factor in the political environment of our workspace than a slight.

The NIMBY moniker is at times used incorrectly in our view as a negative label or to pass judgment on those who are opposing projects. That is not our contention or intention in describing its micro and macro effect on land use applications and implementation of national energy policies. Our job as land use politics professionals is to objectively diagnose its impact on our clients’ projects and prescribe a remedy. In fact, when a disfavored use is proposed in our own hometowns, we might just as easily be organizing a group of people to oppose it based on personal concerns and be called a NIMBY.

We also agree with Professor Gordon that calling people NIMBYs for being opposed does not win them over or convince their elected officials who must make the controversial political decisions to allow the wind farms. We counsel door to door outreach to solicit support and identify concerns early, before those concerns can escalate into the basis of an opposition campaign. NIMBY is not something to be loved or hated (unless it’s impacting your project). It just is what it is.

Mike Saint is chairman and CEO of The Saint Consulting Group, email

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