Advice of Rli, RVS and ROB to the Dutch government: A change of approach is needed in the area of regional policy

There are significant regional disparities in wellbeing in the Netherlands and these disparities are widening. Government policy should focus on countering undesirable disparities, as compensating for deficits alone is not enough. Investment in long-term regional development is needed throughout the Netherlands. When making policy choices, the government should place the emphasis not only on economic returns, but also on the impact on society and the environment in all regions of the Netherlands. This is the advice given by the Council for the Environment and Infrastructure (Rli), the Council of Public Health & Society (RVS) and the Council for Public Administration (ROB) in the advisory report ‘Every region counts! A new approach to regional disparities’, which was handed over to the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, Hanke Bruins Slot, on 27 March 2023

There are significant differences between the regions of the Netherlands, from a cultural perspective and in terms of the environment and landscape. These differences make living in the Netherlands worthwhile, but the increase in undesirable disparities between the Dutch regions is alarming. Regions such as Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, Kop van Noord-Holland, the Veenkoloniën, Twente and Parkstad Limburg have long had to contend with significant deficits, such as lower life expectancy and poorer access to jobs or education.

Invest in regional wellbeing

Under existing national policy, investments tend to be allocated primarily to regions that are already strong. The three councils behind the report are advocating a different policy: one in which achieving wellbeing across the Netherlands as a whole is paramount. This will require central government to consider wider social returns alongside economic returns when distributing funds to the regions. In this way it should be possible to achieve a better distribution of educational institutions, healthcare facilities and government agencies around the country. Secondly, the councils want the regions to develop long-term opportunity agendas themselves. These should form the basis for substantial, long-term investment in the region by the government. Thirdly, a substantial improvement in relations between the regions and central government is needed to ensure that the importance of regional development is better reflected in national policy and to give the regions a greater say in decisions in this area.

Aim to create a basis for vibrant communities

To reduce undesirable disparities between regions, the three advisory councils believe that a basic level of accessible facilities should be available throughout the country. This does not have to be the same everywhere, but education, healthcare, work, cultural offerings and public meeting spaces should be accessible to people in all parts of the Netherlands. Only then can regions develop in a healthy way and remain vibrant.

Create a basis for trust and democracy

The three councils believe that the current regional disparities are problematic for residents of regions where deficits are accumulating, because they contribute to unequal opportunities and a decline in the vitality of the communities in which people live. This inequality undermines people’s trust in government and in our democracy, which presents a risk for the Netherlands as a whole. Moreover, regional disparities complicate effective approaches to major national issues, such as the energy transition, the housing challenge or agricultural reform, while these very areas present opportunities for the aforementioned regions and the Netherlands as a whole.

Note to the editors

To request interviews, please contact the Rli’s Communication Officer Anneke Verschoor at or on +31 (0)6 1535 9540

For more information about this advisory report, please contact Bart Swanenvleugel, project leader, at or on +31 (0)6 5201 2691

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