Tackling population decline

The three main thrusts of the government's approach to population decline are housing, facilities and economic activity.

Key strategies for depopulating areas

The causes and effects of population decline vary from place to place. In one town, the shrinking number of households may mean that neighbourhoods are becoming dilapidated and homes are standing empty, while another town may have no such problem. To take account of this, each region has its own approach. However, in all the areas affected, the overall policy is to foster cooperation between housing associations, schools, care institutions, active members of the community and businesses. The aim is to develop solutions together to problems relating to:

  1. Housing in depopulating areas

    Stakeholders assess the need for modifications to the housing stock, e.g. major maintenance or renovations to make them energy-efficient. They also consider demand for new homes and where these should be built.
  2. Facilities in depopulating areas

    Stakeholders consider the feasibility of concentrating or merging local facilities such as schools, libraries, childcare and healthcare services. They also look at the accessibility of current facilities and whether this needs improving. 
  3. Maintaining economic activity and employment in depopulating areas

    Stakeholders consider ways of maintaining – and, if possible, boosting – the local economy. This could be done by making agreements, for instance:
    • with local schools, businesses and care institutions about how to fast-track school-leavers into employment;
    • about the accessibility of business parks or shopping areas;
    • about taking advantage of opportunities for cross-border partnerships with Germany and Belgium.

Roles played by stakeholders in declining areas

The provincial and municipal authorities hold primary responsibility for tackling the effects of population decline. To ensure that they do not work at cross-purposes, they must work with local and regional parties, such as housing associations, schools, care institutions, active members of the community and businesses.

Support from central government

The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK) supports local initiatives in the following ways:

  • Roundtables on population decline

    The Ministry organises roundtables on population decline with regional parties. Their purpose is for local stakeholders to get together and jointly come up with solutions.
  • Transition atlases

    'Transition atlases' depict the results of the choices made by stakeholders in a particular region, such as which schools need to close and which should stay open.
  • Reporting office for legislative obstacles in tackling population decline

    Provincial and municipal authorities who find their efforts hampered by legislation or red tape can notify this to a special reporting office, which collates the information and passes it on to the relevant government ministries.
  • Cross-border cooperation in declining areas

    The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations helps regional authorities in border areas identify opportunities for cross-border cooperation with German and Belgian border areas, for instance on labour market issues.
  • Coordinating efforts in declining areas

    The Ministry advises provincial and municipal authorities on local and regional policy for areas affected by population decline. It also coordinates with other government ministries involved, such as the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, which is developing policy for dealing with falling pupil numbers in areas of population decline.
  • Projects on living with depopulation

    A second round of projects aimed at living with the effects of population decline was launched at the end of 2013. Many of them involve initiatives by local residents, such as 'Golden Oldies' in the village of Warffum, Groningen. There, participants are testing new plans for housing, care and welfare so that older people can continue living in the village. The Ministry supports these projects through Platform 31.The Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment is supporting the revision of spatial plans in areas with shrinking populations. This includes rezoning buildings or altering plans for new housing. 
  • National Network for Population Decline (NNB)

    The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations is one of the initiators of the National Network for Population Decline (NNB), a platform for professionals, public administrators and active members of the public to share knowledge and forge partnerships.
  • Cooperation with the National Association of Small Communities (LVKK)

    The Ministry of the Interior supports the LVKK, an association with 12 members – the provincial associations of small communities (VKK). These in turn support initiatives by local residents, interest groups and village councils in small communities. Population decline is one of their main agenda items.