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Essay: Organizing space together

Essay: Organizing space together

How do we ensure that homes, nature, agriculture, energy supply and the economy have their place in our country while at the same time keeping cities and the countryside livable? No one can solve this puzzle alone, and it requires cooperation between the government and the provinces, says trainee Risa Smit from the province of North Holland. So why is the government adopting a spatial policy memorandum, even before the regional spatial proposals are ready?

arousing

We are faced with many large and very complex spatial tasks. There is a housing shortage, a nitrogen surplus, a scarcity of fresh water, and above all a complete energy grid. This requires structural change, constructive cooperation between governments and courage on the part of all parties concerned. This is exciting. Because how do we do it and what is the priority?

Red threads

In this context, I started my third and final assignment as an intern in the province of North Holland in January 2024. With an untrained eye, I analyzed all the regional spatial proposals and shared the results with stakeholders from the government, the provinces and the Association of Dutch Municipalities. It was this view from outside the bubble on the pitch that was a great opportunity for constructive conversations. The proposals include basic proposals
The common themes go deeper than just the difference in format and number of pages – ranging from 12 in Groningen to 108 in North Holland. I will discuss the choice.

Starter pack

Before that, some basic information. The spatial proposals arise from the Regional Initial Package for the Physical Environment, established by the Department of the Interior on December 12, 2022. This initial package invites provinces to submit a spatial proposal based on three perspectives: 1) agriculture and nature, 2) organizing energy networks and the (circular) economy, 3 ) Liveable cities and regions.

The Government then formulates the National Spatial Policy in a Spatial Policy Memorandum.

Basic choices

Water and soil are crucial to all three points of view. Spatial propositions form the building blocks for basic choices of spatial integration of key tasks. The government and provinces will enter into agreements to facilitate the necessary changes in spatial arrangements. The Government then formulates the National Spatial Policy in a Spatial Policy Memorandum.

Accreditation

The initial package shows that the provinces face the same major challenges and therefore share an overarching common interest. Surprisingly, districts do not handle common tasks together. An example is the energy challenge. The Netherlands has a national director of electricity, which means there is interconnection between the provinces. However, the provinces do not seem to be addressing this challenge jointly in their plans. Some proposals even aim to promote self-reliance and independence.

Water and soil

The same applies to the topic “Water and Soil Steering”. Extreme weather events as a result of climate change create new conditions for salinization on the one hand and excess water on the other. How do we make sure the dams are strong enough? How do we ensure that water can be collected, stored and drained correctly? How do we ensure water is distributed according to justice and needs?

The question is whether the regional courses used are realistic and effective.

Boundary condition

The spatial proposals see water and soil as prerequisites for implementing the main tasks from the three perspectives in the initial package. Regional approaches to this task seem to take particular account of individual regional problems, no matter how overlapping and transcending they may be between provinces. The question is whether the regional courses used are realistic and effective. The government has an important role to play in jointly determining the course.

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Customization

It makes sense for the province to focus on its regional problems. The effective implementation of joint tasks depends on factors that vary from one province to another, such as geographical location on national or water borders, soil type, or the ratio of urban to rural areas. Therefore, customization is required for effective implementation.

Accreditation

If we look again at the energy challenge, especially energy distribution, we see a strong dependence on various factors. For example, one county faces a greater challenge with housing and housing transaction agreements than another county. There are also provinces with important economic clusters that generate national benefits, such as data centres, large profitable companies such as ASML and Tata Steel, or the international center Schiphol, while other provinces do not bear the burden but receive the benefits. This diversity of factors must be taken into account when distributing energy. This requires solutions tailored to each region, with choices each region must make at the global level and within a framework of mutual cohesion.

The result is that areas outside the core economic areas become increasingly poor

poor

In March 2023, the report “Every Area Counts!” was published. published. This report describes the undesirable differences that have arisen between regions; For a long time, efforts were made to strengthen regions that were already strong, the so-called core economic regions. These areas are mainly located in the Randstad and around Eindhoven. The result is that areas outside the core economic areas become increasingly poor: young people leave, amenities disappear, and mobility becomes less of a priority. The report indicates that this development comes at the expense of the economic viability of these cities and villages.

Strong security

Every area matters! It has received significant political attention and was mentioned in several regional coalition agreements and national election manifestos last year, under the slogan “broad prosperity”. The report is also reflected in the initial package, especially in Perspective 3: Liveable Cities and Regions. Therefore, there is a strong desire to focus on widespread prosperity, and with this desire in mind, I have considered the spatial proposals.

Inconsistent

What catches my attention is that this desire does not always translate consistently into the assignment of key tasks. Take, for example, the allocation of housing construction numbers in housing deals. South Holland, as a core economic region par excellence, has a target of 247,896 homes, while Drenthe has a target of only 13,864 homes. This division makes sense given the growing demand for housing in a core economic region like the South of the Netherlands. However, the implementation of housing deals also includes the completion of facilities and work sites and the strengthening of the mobility network. This raises the question of whether the path taken does not actually maintain the current pattern: further consolidation of economically strong regions at the expense of others.

Do we really need to build such an area?

It has a high population density

Is it desirable to build a lot in an area like the South of Holland? Spatial proposals show that the continued expansion of densely populated urban areas comes at the expense of the green quality of life in the regions. Especially when we consider the balance between green quality of life and healthy living environment, and the increasing mobility pressure and density within urban areas. It is therefore not entirely unexpected that the province of Zuid Holland indicates in its spatial proposal that it will focus on selective growth within the already reserved space. This same argument applies to the city of Drenthe, where there is currently a high degree of green livability. Do we really need to build such an area?

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Balanced balance

Therefore, there is a constant trade-off between maintaining a green quality of life and stimulating an economic quality of life. To realize the ambitions of Elke Regio Telt! If we want to achieve the housing deal effectively, it is important to find a balance in translating both tasks.

guidance

The spatial proposals and final spatial memorandum provide guidance for tackling urgent spatial tasks and this urgency makes the timeline tight. At municipal level, provinces are committed to initiatives such as the Nordic Development Perspective of North Holland and the region-oriented approach as in Gelderland and Limburg. However, it is still difficult to properly engage every managing partner and at the same time maintain speed.

Meanwhile, the government has already started writing the spatial arrangements and spatial planning memorandum

Too early

This challenge also exists at the national level. According to the original schedule, a memorandum of spatial planning and spatial arrangement will be produced
Input of spatial proposals.
The original date for submitting spatial proposals was postponed from October 2023 to December 2023, but this date also turned out to be too early for some provinces. Meanwhile, the government has already started writing the spatial arrangements and spatial planning memorandum. This maintains speed, but I wonder why no one is ensuring that the government includes region-specific input from the provinces' spatial proposals, as agreed, in the follow-up process.

tendency

The fact that operations are going differently than previously agreed seems to be a trend that is causing tension as well. Similar processes have shown that deviation from the agreed-upon process affects mutual relationships. For example, the government announced at the beginning of 2023 that it would make climate funds available to municipalities and counties in response to the concept of regional rural areas programmes. To date, these amounts have not yet been paid, although provinces have relied on them for policy and implementation. In parallel, a buyout plan has been introduced for farmers who are willing to voluntarily stop their activities. This arrangement has not yet been finalized.

A key factor

As previously emphasized, collaboration is essential for a well-functioning approach. Deviation from the agreed schedule and terms causes partners to adhere more closely to the agreed process and is not beneficial to mutual relations. This applies not only to the examples mentioned, but also to the necessity of postponing the previously mentioned application deadline. In my opinion, good mutual communication is a key factor. The government's official response to the spatial proposals – which has not yet been provided – will in turn be a valuable contribution to this process. Finding the balance between reciprocity remains a challenge
And agility.

This is a slightly abridged version of Risa Smit's article. Read the full article this week in BB06 (log in).