Give direction, make space!

The Netherlands is facing major spatial challenges as regards climate, energy, nature, housing, and agriculture. Is the way spatial planning is currently managed adequate for tackling these challenges in good time and with favourable results?
pasture with cows and housing in the background

Background and request for advice

The Netherlands is facing major societal challenges as regards climate, energy, nature, housing, and agriculture, all of which will have a spatial impact. This means that the country and its landscape are on the eve of a drastic transformation. Is the way developments are currently managed from a spatial planning perspective adequate for tackling that transformation in good time and with favourable results?

The request for advice was:

  • Do the frameworks for national spatial planning policy, with the National Strategy on Spatial Planning and the Environment and the Environment and Planning Act, provide a sufficient basis for action on the part of national government, the decentralised authorities, and other parties involved in spatial planning?
  • What improvements are needed in the areas of governance, administrative organisation, implementation capability, civic engagement, and cooperation so as to ensure that the various tiers of government make the spatial choices necessary to create a high-quality, future-proof physical environment?


The Council argues that current spatial management is deficient, as regards both substance and process, and it offers recommendations for remedying the deficiencies. These deficiencies do not call for amending legislation, for rebuilding the entire administrative structure of the country, or for ‘going back to old times’. But what they do call for are new forms of management and effective collaboration between public authorities, the market, corporations, and implementing organisations, with parties daring to make use of the existing spatial instruments and to call one another to account when targets are not met. Design capability is also needed so as to outline an optimistic and attractive vision for the future. The urgent major spatial challenges of our time in fact offer an opportunity to make the Netherlands not only more functional, sustainable and thus future-proof, but also more beautiful and attractive.

The main recommendations are as follows:

1. Reinforce substantive management of national physical environment policy

In its current form, the government’s National Strategy on Spatial Planning and the Environment (NOVI) does not provide enough support for regional authorities to be able to tackle the many challenges in the physical environment. We therefore advise drawing up a ‘NOVI-plus’, comprising clear national goals and choices that are viewed in conjunction with one another, with room for regional elaboration and a reduction in the number of national programmes. The diversity of areas in the Netherlands also requires appropriate spatial management. The concept of ‘broad prosperity’ will be helpful in this regard.

2. Strengthen national government’s role in directing spatial management

In view of the major spatial challenges (and the way they are interconnected), this requires – from the political perspective – direct responsibility on the part of a minister for the spatial planning portfolio. Control with a view to the goals to be achieved is an important means of reinforcing management by national government. This will involve closely monitoring whether the goals are being met. The Minister of Spatial Planning will need to have a dedicated budget for facilitating spatial choices. Furthermore, State-owned land must be utilised more effectively for societal ends. The Council advocates establishing a sub-council of the Council of Ministers with the task of ensuring that there is sufficient (spatial) cohesion in decisions regarding the physical environment.

3. Strengthen the middle tier of administration: provinces and regions

Provinces must have greater control within the spatial domain, in terms of both substance (the sum total of all regional plans and their spatial consequences) and process (coordination between regions and guaranteeing integrality within the regions). Provinces must also become the commissioning party for a new round of land redevelopment for rural areas. We also recommend the establishment of integrated regional consultation bodies, which would consider the various spatial challenges in combination. Among other things, these should draw up an integrated area plan and consult on what tasks they can take over from sectoral consultation bodies.

4. Increase decentralised implementation capability

Provinces, regions, and municipalities are struggling with insufficient implementation capability due to a lack of capacity and knowledge and inadequate budgets. To address this problem, national government should make additional funds available to decentralised authorities for tackling new spatial challenges, such as the transition to a climate-resilient physical environment. The Council also recommends that government budgets for the regions should be decompartmentalised, so that they become available to each region as a single budget. It is also important to invest in knowledge development at regional level.

5. Take civic engagement seriously

The major (transition) challenges cannot be tackled without the support and engagement of the public. The Council therefore recommends organising new forms of such engagement. First and foremost, this means dialogue with the public at national level about the urgency and goals of the major transition challenges. Secondly, it involves civic engagement on a regional scale, with public authorities, the public, businesses, and other parties together drawing up possible and desirable spatial visions of the future. Such engagement does not of course prevent normal democratic decision-making always needing to follow at national, provincial, and municipal level.

6. Utilise one another’s qualities in cooperation with the market, corporations, and implementing organisations

Spatial developments are more complex than before. Various claims must be accommodated within increasingly limited space, where the sustainability transitions must also be given shape. Given these circumstances, it will be necessary to discover (once more) an effective means of ensuring optimal cooperation between the authorities, the market, housing corporations, and implementing organisations. Among other things, this requires making greater use of one another’s knowledge, capital and capacity, an open attitude on the part of the parties involved, and reliable commissioning. National government must become more aware that significant implementation capability lies with organisations such as nature and landscape managers, and must enable these parties to fulfil their implementation role in the best possible manner.

Publication date

The advisory report was received on 23 November 2021 by Erik Jan van Kempen, programme director-general for the Environment and Planning Act, on behalf of the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK). It was also presented to the State Secretary for the Interior and Kingdom Relations and the Ministers and State Secretaries of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy (EZK), Infrastructure and Water Management (IenW), and Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV).

More information

For more information about the advisory report, please contact project leader Lianne van Duinen at