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Navigating waterway renewal

Actor-centred institutional perspectives on planning of the mature Dutch waterways
PhD ceremony:Mr J.J. (Jannes) Willems
When:September 13, 2018
Supervisors:prof. dr. E.J.M.M. (Jos) Arts, prof. dr. J. (Johan) Woltjer
Co-supervisor:dr. T. (Tim) Busscher
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Spatial Sciences
Navigating waterway renewal

The Netherlands is confronted with a major renewal challenge of ageing locks, weirs and bridges in its waterways. Infrastructure planners in western countries will therefore become occupied with the redevelopment instead of development of infrastructure networks. Whereas abundant policies and regulations are developed for the construction of new infrastructure and for the maintenance of existing infrastructure, policies and regulations for renewing infrastructure are relatively new. This dissertation examined how planners anticipate this renewal challenge and which novel policy directions are explored, specifically for the Dutch waterways.

Current practice takes a technical approach, which leads to the replacement of assets one-by-one. The primary function of the object (often transport-related) is continued. Renewal is consequently seen as a clear task for the operator Rijkswaterstaat, without much involvement of other governments. Simultaneously, new practices are emerging, in which ageing assets are positioned in relation to a wider area. The transportation function is then combined with other functionalities, like recreation and energy generation. This merger of functions involves a wider array of governments (not just the operator), each with its own interests, budgets, and time horizons. Dominant parties observe few added value and call such co-operations hazardous.

The dissertation concludes that, because of the engineering-driven view, redevelopment in the Dutch waterways leads to maintaining the existing. Transformation is harder to get off the ground, because the renewal challenge is until now predominantly framed as an operational matter. By positioning the renewal challenge more firmly as a policy challenge, renewal can become more than preservation.