Councillor: Den Helder relies on his own strength

Councilor Petra Bais. Photo via Den Helder Municipality

Great port heritage, water, a dense city center where large investments have been made, with an important supporting role for the housing fund and increasing interest from new residents from outside. But Den Helder is also a city of challenges, with an economy heavily dependent on the Royal Netherlands Navy, absent HBO education and an intercity connection with Amsterdam that stops no less than twelve times. Helderse councilor Petra Bais (housing and spatial planning) relies on her own strength.

Councilor Petra Bais van Den Helder does not see the problem with the train, which runs a straight stretch of around 65 kilometers in 1 hour and 17 minutes. According to her, many people commute between her town and the capital. Definitely students. Den Helder may be at the end of a railway line, but the VVD director, who headed the list of the liberals during the March election, prefers to present Den Helder as ‘the beginning of Holland’.

A city marketer even placed Den Helder about ten years ago as the heart of the Netherlands, which he was right to a certain extent. If you include the Dutch part of the North Sea on the map, Den Helder is exactly in the geographical center. The significance of this is more than just geographical wisdom: the North Sea is the engine of the Den Helder economy. The city serves as an important service center for the gas and oil industry. It has undergone a transformation into an offshore industry based on offshore wind, which is the city’s second economic pillar after the Royal Dutch Navy.

Every day, many helicopters with personnel and materials for drilling platforms depart from Den Helder Airport. Den Helder can play a strategic role in the transition to a hydrogen economy. A third pillar is the service sector. Den Helder has an important center function in the otherwise predominantly rural Kop van Noord-Holland with an important hospital, a theater and many other facilities. The library in the naval city was voted the best in the world.


The harbor in Den Helder. Photo via Den Helder Municipality

1,500 more homes

Den Helder has seen lesser times. The population dropped from more than 60,000 inhabitants in 1996 to 56,334 souls on January 1 this year. But for about five years now, the decline really seems to have stalled and the city is gradually making a comeback.

The decline was primarily a result of the downsizing of the fleet, says Councilor Bais. Naval forces have been expanding again for about three years now, meaning that a (net) demolition program has given way to an ambitious housing program. The council agreed that a total of 1,500 houses should be added, spread across the city centre, in Huisduinen, a beautiful residential area in a dune landscape just opposite the city, and in the suburb of Julianadorp. This is a kind of growth center that arose in the 1970s in the meadow south of the city to provide shelter for the naval personnel. The province gave its approval to partially new explanations.

broad shoulders

When asked where the city will base the construction of 1,500 homes, Bais replies that it is ‘just a need’, partly from the fleet, which is crying out for new staff, partly autonomously by empty-liners who want to take the next step in their housing career .. The municipal board also wants to create new demand with the construction agenda. According to Bais, it is in no way risky. Where previously only a fraction of the crowd came outside Den Helder to information evenings for new building projects, now it is at least a quarter according to the VVD member.

Investors and developers who previously ignored the city have also expanded their scope of work to the north. Den Helder attracts people from outside by realizing homes in ‘unique locations’, says Bais, such as in Dijkkwartier. The city also deliberately invests in ‘higher residential areas’. The councilor emphasizes that the city needs new target groups, the ‘broad shoulders’, in order to realize traffic management, but also to increase disposable income. With the aim of creating a flywheel effect that ultimately many can benefit from.

Vital city centre

As the market parties had not yet discovered Den Helder, the municipality leaned heavily on the Housing Fund Den Helder, which has continued to invest in new housing developments, particularly in the centre. In addition, the municipality stimulated the concentration of (shopping) facilities. The result is visible in the form of a compact and vital center with robust residential buildings with a robust signature with lots of bricks and vertical lines. The housing association is currently working on converting the characteristic V&D building into an apartment complex, with facilities in the plinth.

While the councilor of Dordrecht presented the lack of higher vocational education in the Netherlands’ oldest city as a problem in this interview series (students would bring life to the center, Dordrecht has no dance cafes), you will not hear VVD mayor Bais complain about the absence of university education in her city (except for the Royal Naval Institute, KIM). The higher nautical college and the associated offshore training went to Amsterdam in the 1990s. ‘Of course it is a shortcoming, but such a course also wants to make a profit, and then it will be bundled in several places.’

Downtown Den Helder

Downtown Den Helder. Photo via Den Helder Municipality

METIP

The nearest HBO is in Alkmaar, 37 train minutes south. Long? ‘That’s not how it’s experienced here at all.’ An affordable housing stock, special living environments, attractive facilities, proximity to nature and the beach must compensate for the lack of higher education.

In addition, the municipality, business, knowledge institutions and the development company Noord-Holland Noord work together in the technology hub METIP (Maritime Emerging Technologies Innovation Park) in the innovation district of Willemsoord. The goal is to bring talent from education and startups and SMEs in the maritime sector closer together. It is a response to the lack of labor, which is also acute in Den Helder.

A final topic of discussion concerns the boat to Texel. Most outsiders probably know Den Helder from that, apart from the navy. The council would like more people to see Den Helder not only as a stepping stone to Wadden Island, but also to find their way from Texel to Den Helder. For a day of culture, an overnight stay preferably several nights.

The city has a lot to offer, says Bais, such as the fortresses, the theatre, museums, but it just needs to be sold better. An independent foundation ‘City Marketing Den Helder’ looks at it. The Sail and the Marine Days are already big crowd pullers. Now the city itself.

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