High-quality landscape is essential to a sustainable Netherlands

The Netherlands is facing major and urgent sustainability challenges, such as the energy transition, adaptation to climate change, and the sustainable development of the agriculture sector. These developments will change the Dutch landscape drastically: a landscape to which people feel attached, from which they derive their identity, and in which they feel at home. The Dutch Council for the Environment and Infrastructure (Raad voor de Leefomgeving en Infrastructuur, Rli) believes that these challenges can only be met with success if they are combined with an intensive public debate focused on improving the quality of the landscape. These are some of the conclusions reached by the Council in its advisory report ‘The Connecting Landscape’, which was presented on 8 November 2016 to the Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment and the State Secretary of Economic Affairs.

The Council notes that the government’s role in safeguarding the quality of the Dutch landscape is no longer clear since the central government has discontinued its official landscape policy. In addition, the landscape is too often regarded as a sectoral interest, with conservation and protection of the existing situation defined as a priority. The Council believes that the spatial changes required to address major sustainability challenges offer plenty of opportunities for the creation of new valuable landscapes. The Council therefore advocates using the transition to a sustainable society to create valuable landscapes. However, that transition will lead to a great deal of resistance if insufficient attention is devoted to the landscape. The Council suggests that residents of and visitors to the unique Dutch landscape should be much more closely involved in this transition.

The Council recommends incorporating a requirement in environmental and planning policy to devote attention to landscape quality in this way, both nationally and at the regional level. In practice, this means that government authorities must start by engaging in open dialogue with local residents about landscape changes when preparing environmental vision documents or elaborating sectoral plans for water or energy challenges, for instance. After all, residents possess unique knowledge and experience of the landscape. The Council sees no reason to change the existing relationships between government authorities: any party seeking to realise spatial changes must exercise its duty of care for the landscape.

In preparing this advice, the Council has sought inspiration by talking to local residents in two regions of the Netherlands about the values they associate with ‘the landscape of the future’. In addition, the Council has challenged ten design agencies and educational institutions to present their vision of the Dutch landscape in 2070. These activities were an important source of inspiration for the advisory report.