Environmental Act: better legislation, fewer regulations, more room

The Mining Act went into force in the Netherlands in 1810. It was the first act that was focused on the living environment. Since that time, dozens of sectoral laws have been added, including the Spatial Planning Act, the Water Act and the Historic Buildings and Monuments Act. These laws were implemented for important reasons but their differing procedures and permits make it virtually impossible to get good initiatives off the ground. On Tuesday 17 June, Minister Schultz van Haegen of Infrastructure and the Environment sent the “Environmental Bill” to the House of Representatives. A new act, that involves all the physical plans that shape our country. This act combines all the laws and regulations that have to do with the living environment: one law instead of 26.

Minister Schultz: ‘The Environmental Act is in line with the times: it simplifies complex and fragmented regulations. It also allows room for regional differences, for innovation and individual initiative. The realisation of the Environmental Act is the largest legislative operation since the revision of the constitution in 1848. With this act, together with all the parties involved, we are working for a safe and healthy living environment, with room for new developments.’

Faster and cheaper

Thanks to the new Environmental Act, the procedure for obtaining permits will soon be faster and simpler. For example, permits for extending a school on a site that is mainly residential, where trees have to be cut down and where additional driveways are needed. Under the current legislation, 3 environmental permits would be needed involving procedures that would take six months. Under the new Environmental Act, just one permit will be needed, involving a procedure that will take a mere eight weeks. Or, if a municipality changes its policy, for example, for all schools, all hospitality facilities or all house boats within its boundaries, it would currently have to amend all zoning plans with those functions. Shortly, the municipality will have one environmental plan for all the land within its boundaries and it can amend it all at once. Extremely efficient and a marked reduction of the administrative burden.

Customisation

Soon, the Environmental Act will take into account regional differences, like urban growth and population decline. Provinces and municipalities should have room for flexibility and their own considerations. An important element in the bill is the involvement of the public at large and the business community in decision-making regarding plans, visions and projects. People who live and work n an area can provide input to arrive at high-quality decisions. The new act will also make it possible to respond better to current developments such as tackling the problem of vacant buildings.

More trust, more flexibility

Current Dutch environmental law sometimes hampers innovative and sustainable initiatives. The new Environmental Act will offer more room through the experimentation clause, for example. This will enable, for instance, the citizens’ initiative Ecodorp Boekel to be set up aimed at providing residents with necessities on a local scale, while Heerhugowaard and Hoorn will be able to install solar collectors without environmental permits.

Simply Better Already

With the Environmental Act the system of spatial planning regulations will be completely revised. It requires a very different kind of working method – as well as different thinking – on the part of authorities, the public and the business community. Open, cohesive, flexible, inviting and innovative are the keywords. In anticipation of this, the authorities are already gaining experience with the philosophy behind the new Environmental Act under the slogan: Nu al Eenvoudig Beter (Simply Better Already).

Success through partnership

In the years ahead, the underlying regulations will be simplified and improved. Over time, additional laws will also be added. The parties closely involved in this include the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG), the Dutch Association of Provincial Authorities (IPO) and the Dutch Water Authorities (Unie). The state, VNG, IPO and the Unie are working together to provide the individual municipalities, provinces and water authorities with the best possible support.