Roles and responsibilities of provincial government, municipal governments and water authorities

The Netherlands has a long tradition of consultation and cooperation of government bodies, stakeholder organisations, and citizens. Within this framework, policy on national and international issues is prepared by central government and forms the basis for legislation ratified by the Dutch Parliament. 

Policy related to the provinces and municipalities is devolved to government at these levels, closer to the people and on the principle of promoting public participation in democracy. 

The Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment is responsible for developing policy in the national context and the provinces are responsible for translating these guidelines into the regional context. The municipalities have the power and financial means to develop and implement local policy on spatial planning and the environment. Close cooperation between all levels of government inherent in the Dutch system ensures the necessary checks and balances. 

Provincial Government

While national policy on environment is the responsibility of  the Ministry, provincial government is responsible for translating these guidelines into the regional context. The 12 provincial governments develop regional policy and draw up regional plans setting out the zoning guidelines for the location and expansion of residential, industrial and commercial areas within cities, towns and villages. Environmental management policy is related to spatial planning and directed to creating a healthy environment with clean air, water and soil by regulating emissions from road transport, industry and other sources.

To this end, provincial authorities are responsible for granting environmental permits stipulating the limits, for example, for emissions and noise hindrance. The Provinces are also responsible for enforcement of environmental regulations by large companies. Provincial authorities play a key role in stimulating the use of sustainable energy and in meeting targets for the production of renewable energy such as wind energy, and for provision of adequate space for the construction of wind energy parks. 

Municipal Government

Implementing national policy and strategy on environmental management is largely decentralised to municipal government. These authorities prepare local regulations and have both the legal and financial means to implement and enforce decisions and regulations.

Municipalities may also work together with public authorities such as Water Boards on water quality and wastewater treatment. The municipalities are responsible for preparing regulations for implementing and enforcing the regulations in the national Environmental Management Act and other environmental regulations. The Environmental Management Act covers matters such as separated waste collection, disposal of hazardous waste, air quality, and noise nuisance, and environmental permits for industrial and commercial activity.

Environmental regulations may vary from one municipality to another, for instance on separated waste collection from households and commercial and industrial activity, and the treatment, recycling and disposal of waste. 

Water Boards

The Dutch Water Boards play a key role in environmental management in the Netherlands because they are responsible for managing and maintaining surface water quantity and quality throughout the country. One of the oldest public authorities in the Netherlands, the 26 Water Boards operate quite independently of national government in their primary task of safeguarding the country against flooding and rising sea level. 

The Water Boards are responsible for managing and maintaining flood defences along the coast, rivers and waterways. An integral part of this task is to manage and maintain sufficient quantity of surface water of adequate quality for various purposes – drinking water, domestic and industrial uses. This includes managing and operating municipal wastewater treatment plants and the discharge of treated water into surface waters. It involves continuous monitoring of the chemical and biological quality of surface waters.