With the arrival of the Environment Planning Act [Omgevingswet] as the new legislative framework for our living environment in 2019, the government is also reviewing its overall policy in this field.
There is a need for a more coherent and integrated policy approach. Against this background, the Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment has recently presented a green paper setting out his National Environmental Planning Vision to the Lower House of Parliament. The Minister aims to have this vision document adopted before the Environmental Planning Bill is enacted. The green paper analyses trends and developments and discusses the challenges for our physical living environment. These are subsequently filtered down to strategic challenges for an overarching environmental planning policy. In other words, the green paper does not chart a precise course for government policy, but suggests a direction for government to take and explores the options and opportunities available. The figure below (available in Dutch) shows the green paper and the four strategic challenges which the Minister believes will create added value if embedded in an integrated approach.
Within these four strategic challenges, the government wants to zoom in on the following interesting and socially relevant issues:
Towards a sustainable and competitive economy
- Focusing on a handful of robust urban regions in the core economic area or on every urban region across the Netherlands?
- Regional economic development: striking a balance between the opportunities provided by regions and the needs of different economic sectors.
- Improving accessibility: striking a balance between the opportunities provided by regions and the needs of different sectors.
- Navigating the dilemma between ensuring an attractive, health and safe environment and boosting (economic) development.
- Circular economy: room for transition as well as ensuring a high-quality living environment.
Towards a climate-proof and carbon neutral society
- Dealing with climate change: focus on sectoral objectives or take an integrated approach?• Vital infrastructure: climate-robust or not always available?
- Generate sustainable energy in this country or import it and protect the environment?
- Centrally and/or decentralised?
- Acceleration: apply existing technologies or innovate, or both?
- Should energy use also be regulated, or just focus on renewable energy generation?
Towards future-proof and accessible residential and working environments
- A proper balance between expansion and rejuvenation, and between new-build and transformation
- Acceptable social differences between urban areas and the countryside
- Development of regions with a declining population
- Plan new developments in accessible places or improve accessibility of existing places
- Innovate connections: make a choice even if you are uncertain, or wait for promising ideas
- Climate-proof and energy-efficient building: individual or collective measureseen goede balans tussen uitleg en verdichten en tussen nieuwbouw en transformatie
Towards a valuable environment
- Do we have too little nature or are we expecting too much from nature?
- Agriculture: food production subject to conditions, or solutions to societal needs
- The natural environment: a guiding principle or the outcome of developments?
- Raise groundwater level in peat bogs/meadows or keep up current agricultural production levels
Step-by step plan
In the coming period, the strategic challenges will be fleshed out on the basis of the issues listed above, and policy options and alternatives will be explored. The outcome will be presented in a draft National Environmental Planning Vision. During that stage, government will also arrange for an environmental impact assessment and water impact assessment to be carried out. The draft vision document will be put out to consultation. Ultimately, this will result in the adoption of the National Environmental Planning Vision, which will shed light on the role which central government intends to play in terms of our physical living environment. Although binding on the government, the National Environmental Planning Vision is and remains a vision document. As such, it is not binding directly on residents and businesses. However, the National Environmental Planning Vision cannot be seen separately from its context and so residents and businesses may be confronted with the choices made in this vision document, given its correlation with other Environmental Planning Act tools (e.g. general rules, programmes, environmental planning regulation, etc.). This is because the choices made in the vision document may, for example, be detailed or set out in a programme. The Dutch Cabinet intends for the National Environmental Planning Vision to be adopted before the Environmental Planning Act enters into force. This means that preparations for the vision document are being made under what is still Section 2.3 of the Spatial Planning Act (long-term vision). The answers which the government will be formulating in the coming period will shed more light on the question of whether government policy will actually become more focused and coherent. The Minister’s high ambition level should help in this regard.
2019 is approaching fast
Given the key position that the National Environmental Planning Vision will occupy within our environmental and spatial planning system, we will monitor the government's actions closely. That also applies, of course, for the introduction of the Environmental Planning Act. The legislature considers this to be the most comprehensive enactment exercise since the amendment to the Constitution in 1848. A member of the Advisory Committee on the Environmental Planning Act, set up by the Minister, Anne-Marie Klijn (Public Law partner) was closely involved with the introduction of the Act. NautaDutilh is currently advising local authorities and businesses on the substantial changes, consequences and opportunities provided by the new legislation. Everyone is preparing for it. If you would you like to know more, please do not hesitate to contact us.