26 May 2023
On 1 January 2024, the new Environment and Planning Act (“The Act”) will come into effect. The Act will create a more coherent regulatory landscape, replacing several existing laws regulating the physical environment in the Netherlands. In addition, it provides an incentive to better align the interests of different stakeholders such as municipalities, real estate developers and other parties that affect the physical environment with their activities.
Sustainability is firmly established as a central concept within the Act. The Act consists of six core instruments that give local governments the tools to provide concrete legislative gains for the environment, among other objectives. One such instrument is the Environment Vision (Omgevingsvisie): a strategic plan that mandates local governments the power to set up an area-specific programme, which is aligned with the Vision’s sustainability goals. For those operating in the real estate sector, this could translate into changes in the application and processing of permits, or an increase in stringency of construction requirements in some municipalities.
In addition, the Act establishes a digital environment that connects all municipalities and will serve as a one-stop-shop for all [building] permit applications, zoning plan rules and details on physical environment quality. Currently, it takes about 26 weeks for a permit request to be finalised. With the new online environment, it is estimated that the time will be reduced to only 8 weeks. The permit will regulate the rules surrounding whether an activity affecting the physical environment is allowed and under what conditions. Because of its broad scope, it is difficult to formulate an exhaustive list of activities that includes all possible subjects, but examples of what will be considered range from rules about air pollution, construction or demolition, habitat destruction or preservation. Under the existing legislation, a separate zoning-permit was required for each specific activity. The Act will reduce the regulatory burden for citizens and companies by requiring a single permit across all activities. Finally, the Act introduces a new compensation scheme for damages suffered as a result of government policy.
As the Act applies to a wide range of topics, spanning across construction, environment, water, soil, nature and cultural heritage, good coordination between the parties and interests involved is essential. An integrated approach is key to deliver on the environmental protection required. The Minister for Housing and Spatial Planning, Hugo de Jonge, noted that, “this area-oriented, integral approach is much needed for the major tasks we face in the fields of housing construction, energy sustainability, infrastructure, agriculture, and nature.” Below, we outline how the Act and its corresponding legislative pieces provide local governments and its stakeholders with a more comprehensive framework to enable a smoother, healthier and quicker transition to a sustainable economy.
Using the Environment and Planning Act as a toolbox for sustainability transition
An important aspect of sustainability is finding a balance between economic, ecological, and social interests. The Act will better align these interests and strive to deliver a balanced approach to the physical environment. For example, the Act mandates every municipality to have an environment plan (Omgevingsplan). This environment plan follows the Environment Vision and should provide the necessary opportunities for including sustainability requirements in local laws and regulations. Specifically for the real estate sector, such requirements could, for instance, cover energy efficiency or circular building requirements.
In addition, the Act will contribute to increasing the involvement of citizens and other stakeholders in the development of the physical environment. It does so by offering companies and citizens transparent and simplified information on the environmental planning and allowing stakeholders to provide feedback through an environment counter (Omgevingsloket). Through this form of participation and cooperation, innovative perspectives and interests can be better included, creating a more integrated approach that takes sustainability aspects into account. Governments are thus incentivised to look at all components of the physical environment more coherently. For example, it is simultaneously looking at issues such as energy, sustainability, and social impacts.
What is the Environment Buildings Decree (Besluit Bouwwerken Leefomgeving)?
In conjunction with the introduction of the new Environment and Planning Act, the existing Building Decree (2012) will be replaced with the Environment Buildings Decree. As a general administrative order, the Environment Buildings Decree is covered by the remit of the Act and regulates the technical standards for buildings in the physical living environment. It imposes legislating requirements on the use of materials or the disposal of waste during the construction process. The Decree will introduce substantial changes for the real estate sector, with the most substantial changes found in the requirements for fire safety, charging facilities for EVs, new day-lighting requirements, and additional requirements for construction and demolition works. In respect of the former, one example of such change is that the building must be resistant to collapse for a certain period to ensure safety for emergency services. With respect to EV charging facilities, a cable entry for a charging point must be installed in residential buildings for each parking space in cases where the parking area consists of 10 parking spaces or more. For non-residential buildings, the same applies and there must be at least one EV charging point per five parking spaces. In both situations, the parking spaces should be on the plot of the building. Note that the Environment Buildings Decree embraces numerous other requirements than those discussed above. All in all, the Decree aims to ensure a safe and healthy physical living environment that contributes directly to creating a more sustainable and resilient physical environment by encouraging the construction of safe and sustainable structures.
The new Environment and Planning Act and the Environment Buildings Decree place sustainability at the forefront. Through offering coherent and integrated regulations, the Act provides local governments the necessary tools to encourage and implement innovative, sustainability policies that both protect the physical living environment and improve the building sector. The environment plan is a crucial tool to not only safeguard the spatial aspects of the energy transition, but to determine whether these aims are achievable. Moreover, the process of drafting and implementing an environment plan will be essential in creating increased synergy between the physical living and built environment. While there is still substantial ground to cover, the introduction of the Environment Act and its related regulations provide a set of instruments through which a successful transition to a sustainable built environment is brought one step closer.
How Longevity Partners can help
At Longevity Partners, we believe that regulatory knowledge forms the foundation of any successful sustainability strategy. We use our specialist knowledge of the real estate sector to provide policy and regulatory analysis of regulations such as the Dutch Environment and Planning Act, tailored to our clients’ need and geographical location. Our team can provide a range of services including legislation reviews, trainings and workshops, and data management and reporting to ensure that clients can better apprehend the risks and opportunities related to regulatory requirements.