“We put our finger on the sore spot, and therefore we are not always the most popular” – Ruimteontwikkeling.nu

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The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Commission has provided independent advice on the content of environmental impact assessments for 35 years. The major spatial challenges and transitions that the Netherlands is facing make the instrument more relevant than ever. However, MORE is not always a matter of course. “Municipalities and developers shouldn’t want to be smart Henkie.”

What is the similarity between Groningen birds, who see their place on the mudflats to rest and look for food that is lost, and residents of Hardinxveld-Giessendam in South Holland, who are afraid of contaminated soil and noise nuisance caused by the construction of a nearby residential area? In both cases (lack of) environmental impact assessment plays an important role.

There was no environmental impact assessment in Hardinxveld. As a result, the municipality was not able to take into account the extent of the construction plan’s environmental consequences in its decision. That was reason for the State Council to draw a line through the subdivision plan. In Groningen, the environmental impact statement stated that it was impossible that the habitat for birds would become smaller due to the arrival of 16 wind turbines. However, after a re-evaluation of the report by the Commission, it was found that this claim was not well-founded.

All that is complex

In 1987, the Dutch government decided to introduce environmental impact assessment. In previous years, steps had already been taken in the United States to develop an instrument with which all environmental impacts of activities could be measured at once.perceptive must be made. In addition to the impacts on the environment, such a report also identifies possible alternatives and mitigating measures for the environment.

We notice that the parties attach value to EIA, but people also say: costs a lot of money, is a hassle. Or they think it’s going slower.

The EIA Commission was established the same year as an independent advisory body. “We do not carry out environmental impact assessments ourselves,” emphasizes Lourens Loeven, director of the Commission for the past three years. “We check the quality of the reports (as in the bird example, red.). Have things been forgotten, are the conclusions correct? We do this first when the research agenda for the environmental impact statement has been determined and finally when the report is ready.”

‘Airplane landing at Schiphol in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.’

by Steve Photography

(source: shutterstock.com)


Over the past 35 years, the Commission has issued advice more than 3,500 times. Whether it was the nitrogen consequences of certain projects, the storage of CO2 under the North Sea, the widening of the A27 at Amelisweerd or the widening of Schiphol: the Commission has looked at the associated environmental reports. Or as Loeven describes it: “Everything in the Netherlands that is complex, controversial and radical for our living environment comes to visit us.”

friction

The two examples from Groningen and Hardinxveld-Giessendam show in a nutshell the role EIA and the Commission have played in regional development for more than three decades. In Groningen, Loeven and his colleagues received a request from the province to review the EIA that had already been carried out. The goal: to be sure that wind turbines do not have negative effects on the birds in the Wadden Sea region.

“We are an independent foundation established by law. We put together a working group of experts for each project. We have more than 350 experts who work at universities, knowledge institutions or are independent. They evaluate the report and provide advice, which we publish on our website. Everything we do is public. And yes, it creates friction sometimes.”

Environmental impact assessment and the Commission provide a streamlined model that you can use to realize beautiful and sustainable projects.

In South Holland, the municipality of Hardinxveld was convinced that an EIA was not necessary, but the State Council put an end to that. According to Loeven, such cases clearly show the importance of good environmental research. “As a developer or municipality, you can no longer avoid doing good research into the effects on the environment, nature and the surrounding area. If you don’t do that, you know for sure that when you have finished developing the project, you will fail in the State Council.’

Embrace

With this danger lurking, why doesn’t every developer or municipality carry out an EIA on their own? The environment, the climate and the consequences of land development for the same environment are increasingly high on the agenda, but an environmental impact assessment is apparently not always a matter of course. “We notice that the parties attach value to EIA, but people also say: costs a lot of money, is a hassle. Or people think it’s slowing down.”

This prospect arouses some annoyance at Loeven. “Municipalities and developers should not want to be smart Henkie. Then they think: ‘I cut the development to pieces, then an EIA is not necessary and we can get out of it legally.’ My view is that this is very old-fashioned thinking. I think you have to embrace the added value of the instrument.”

present

Loeven prefers to look at the positive sides. More and more executive bodies find their way to the Commission, and in more and more cases it is done voluntarily. In the next phase of the preparation of the regional energy strategies (RES 2.0), an environmental impact statement has become an obligation. “And the Environment and Planning Act means that the conditions and principles for EIA are described in a simpler and stricter way.”

Only here the shoe squeezes for Loeven and his colleagues. Because although he is ’80 to 90 percent’ positive about the future of EIA in relation to the Environment and Planning Act, there are also some worrying elements. The most important change is that in some (complex) projects, advice from the Commission is no longer mandatory.

Birds in the Wadden Sea.  by Henk Osinga Photography (Shutterstock)

‘Birds in the Wadden Sea.’

by Henk Osinga Photography

(source: Shutterstock)


“We put our finger on the sore spot, which is why we are not always the most popular. But there is so much knowledge with us, you should see it as a gift that we check everything again. This can certainly increase the quality of the EIA. This applies especially to small municipalities, because they do not have the time, knowledge and money. A high-quality environmental impact report leads to better decisions for the living environment, and that is ultimately what it is all about.”

Beautiful and sustainable projects

Despite this worrying development, Loeven foresees a bright future for both the instrument and the Commission. “In a society where issues are constantly discussed, it is important that the facts are undisputed. Therefore, I think it is very good that we as the Commission advise completely independently.”

“Everything we do is transparent. Developers and municipalities also want sustainable and future-proof projects. They also see that the sea level is rising, that there is a loss of biodiversity and that everyone wants to build circularly. The old-fashioned way of building does not work longer. and the Commission provides a streamlined model with which you can realize beautiful and sustainable projects.”

On the occasion of the 35th anniversary, the Commission published the position paper More than ever from: a six-point plan for the further development of environmental impact assessment.


Front page: ‘Wind turbines in the landscape’

by breeding bass

(source: Shutterstock)


Jasper monster

By Jasper Monster

Freelance journalist and web editor Ruimtesontwikkeling.nu


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