Urban planning

Urban planning

The Netherlands has recently introduced a law for protecting and using the physical environment: the Environment Act. This act includes rules for protecting critical functions, such as housing, nature and surface water (drinking water extraction). Rules and standards restrict the use of the physical environment for environmentally harmful activities.

The Environment Act must protect people and nature from the discharge of pollutants into the soil, water and air, prevent excess noise and contain the risks from using and transporting hazardous substances. Together, it focuses on the integral protection of the physical living environment.

Municipalities have several instruments for this purpose (see text box). For instance, municipalities must develop a long-term (10-15 years) strategic environmental vision for the entire territory. The environmental vision contains policy ambitions and goals for the physical living environment. Think of building new houses, restructuring outdated business parks and railway station areas while improving water and air quality, reducing noise pollution, maintaining nature, and preserving biodiversity.

Spatial and environmental quality

In conjunction with the vision of the environment, municipalities have to draw up an environmental plan with a strong, legally binding character for people and businesses. It is a regulation containing general rules, notifications, licensing, and standards for dealing with environmentally harmful activities (noise, odour and safety risks). These rules and standards may apply to the entire territory or just parts of it. The environment plan aims to ensure a healthy and safe living environment. Equally, the environment plan can provide rules and standards about sustainability, such as climate-proof and energy-neutral development of the living environment. The municipal council is the competent authority to make a rightful use of it.

The environment plan is to ensure a balanced allocation of functions (living, working, infrastructure, agriculture) over areas and locations. It considers environmentally harmful activities and binds them to general protective rules and licensing arrangements. The balanced allocation of functions can be a complex task. It involves various interests, such as health, sustainable energy, and the economic and business climate. Coherent consideration is possible by area-specific rules and environmental standards. General rules can also apply to an entire territory these are generally applicable duties of care to maintain the quality of the physical living environment.