In anticipation of the RSA's 2012 European Conference in Delft, The Netherlands we thought it might be useful to provide a bit of a primer on Dutch Urban Planning so that those of you travelling to the country have a bit of background on how things work and how they have changed in the past few years. The Dutch planning system has been widely studied and praised by academics and practitioners alike for being an integrated and well-planned system resulting in positive social, environmental and economic outcomes. Despite being a relatively small country The Netherlands played a critical role in the development of the European Spatial Development Perspective and as a result influenced planning practice throughout Europe in the first decade of the 21st century.
For decades the Dutch planning system was based on a hierarchical model of planning, whereby national, provincial and local levels had different but coordinated responsibilities. Higher levels of government set the wider strategic goals, such as the desire to protect the 'green heart' - a large piece of rural land that is surrounded by the major cities of the country. The local level, meanwhile, produced the binding legal plans in order to operationalise the national or provincial vision. It was the success of this multi-scalar interaction between tiers of government that often won praise. But the system also had detractors who found it increasingly ill equipped to deal with the changing socio-economic environment of the country.
In 2008 a new Dutch Spatial Planning Act was introduced that saw a complete change in how planning was done in the country. The hierarchy of plans has been removed and each tier of government now has, for the most part, the same planning powers. This allows the national government to develop structural local plans in order to directly advance the national interest for example as well as allow local municipalities to develop local plans without the need for provincial approval.
Within this new system strategic goals have no binding power, only legal ordinances are enforceable by law. This is a strong break from tradition, the results of which are still not fully understood. Only time will tell! If you want to know more about the Dutch planning system have a look at the Academic Programme for the conference and track down a session or two!