On Friday 3 November 2023, the fifth edition of the National Spatial Election Debate took place in the Rabo Studio of Forum Groningen. During the debate, politicians from CDA, D66, GroenLinks-PvdA, Nieuw Sociaal Contract, Partij voor de Dieren, SP, Volt, and VVD debated about spatial topics. The parties discussed their visions for the Netherlands of the future and talked about housing, the climate, and the Randstad-peripheral region relationship. The debate was organized by the University of Groningen (UG) and Groningen student debating society of planners (Groninger Dispuut der Planologen) Ekistics, in cooperation with the festival Let's Gro. The debate was led by Marijke Roskam.
The debaters were:
Please click on a theme below to find out what the debaters had to say about it.
‘Collectively, we need to think about the design of our country. The tasks are great and the choices are difficult. We should not approach these tasks in isolation. This requires vision from our leaders.’ That is how Ward Rauws, associate professor of Spatial Planning at the UG, introduced the debate. The first round of the debate focused on four spatial future scenarios, as constructed by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL, Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving). The four scenarios, Global Entrepreneurship, Fast World, Green Country, and Regional Roots, vary both institutionally and in terms of agriculture and nature, energy networks and circular economy, and livable cities and regions.
D66 opens the debate: in the Netherlands, we should create less space for agriculture and more space for nature and housing. This is the most sustainable and leads to the most prosperity. Volt radically chooses the climate and long-term plans: ‘The Netherlands must stop fossil fuel subsidies.’ The people are at the centre and everyone must be able to participate. D66 and Volt both believe that tomorrow’s technologies and innovations are important for the Netherlands in the future.
The Partij voor de Dieren (PvdD) dares to choose. Livestock must be reduced by 75%. This will free up a lot of space for nature, housing, and plant-based building materials. Should milk then be imported from abroad using lorries? No: a switch to plant-based food is the future, according to the PvdD. Nieuw Sociaal Contract (NSC), on the other hand, says that agricultural land should be used for urbanization, but we should keep the cows in the meadows. ‘Livestock should only shrink through farmers who already wanted to stop.’ D66 wants to achieve the same goals as PvdD but without political coercion. 'True pricing' is crucial for this.
In the SP's vision of the future, we must return to small-scale farming and public housing. If we give people a say, it creates trust in the government and leads to more sustainable choices. We pay for this by returning profits to the local community. According to the VVD, the peripheral region and community also have added value, but without innovations and techniques from the market we will not get there. ‘The Netherlands does not need radical, but gradual change.’
The CDA is radically local. Regional communities can act quickly, but they must be given room for ‘an extra street here and there’. The central government does need to ensure that the peripheral region remains accessible, for example in accordance with accessibility standards. In the Netherlands of the future, water and soil are guiding factors for GroenLinks-PvdA (GL-PvdA). Therefore, opportunities for living and working should be spread throughout the Netherlands. The VVD reacts by asking attention for affordable access for cars specifically to Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe. The GL-PvdA responds by stating that there are already roads to the North, but still no Lelylijn for example.
There is a great shortage of affordable housing. There is a large gap between the Randstad and the peripheral region, especially for those looking to buy their first house. This is the point Michiel Daams (assistant professor of Economic Geography of Real Estate Markets at the UG) makes at the beginning of this round. VVD, NSC, SP and GroenLinks-PvdA are debating how to promote a continuous flow in the housing market. Central to the discussion is the question how the parties are going to help people who earn above average, but are ‘stuck’ in social housing and are unable to buy a house.
According to VVD and NSC, the problem lies with supply. The Netherlands must limit migration and increase the supply of housing. According to the VVD, this should not only be done in cities, but also on the outskirts of cities and in villages. A building agreement between the state, provinces, municipalities, investors, and housing corporations should help. NSC sees it just the other way ’the state in particular should have power to realize housing locations.’
GroenLinks-PvdA opts for public housing. ’Active land policy with a land bank to steer spatial development is also needed for affordable housing.’ The party wants to introduce maximum rents in the free sector. This leads to resistance from NSC and VVD: the higher segment must also remain in the market, and no one would want to build then.
The SP is seriously addressing the other parties that they believe have caused the problems in the housing market, for example with the introduction of the landlord levy and the abolition of the Ministry of Housing and Spatial Planning. SP wants no more shady landlords, but to regulate renting in the public sector.
Margo van den Brink (associate professor of Water and Planning at the UG) explains that the consequences of climate change are becoming increasingly impactful. Spatial planning must be adapted to a changing climate. We must stop building in vulnerable areas and reserve space for water storage. Are politicians prepared to make these choices? D66, Volt, PvdD, and CDA debate a ban on building in vulnerable areas.
The PvdD kicks off the discussion and says we should not blindly build everywhere. The party proposes a housing ladder. ’First, look at what's vacant, then start densifying in the city, before adding a street in agricultural areas.’ But, urban densification at some point comes at the expense of liveability for people and animals.
Volt wants a Delta Plan Waterland: a comprehensive vision regarding water, housing, and health. The Netherlands should not be flooded, but houses are also needed. ‘We should not act from a place of fear, but based on innovative ideas. In doing so, we must be honest about the risks. CDA also thinks from a place of innovative ideas: The Netherlands is a trailblazer when it comes to building on water. Focusing on water and soil is a good choice. ’Therefore, start building on high sandy soils, but do not build a new Randstad in Twente.’
D66's strategy is in line with that of PvdD and Volt. Do not build on open spaces, but in cities. Choose innovative solutions. The CDA is critical. Cities need green spaces to prevent heat stress and to store water.
For the past 15 years, spatial planning at the national level has not been a prioritized topic. This has led to an uneven distribution between the Randstad and the peripheral regions, while new claims for space end up precisely in the peripheral region. The peripheral region has set conditions to avoid becoming just an area of profit for the state. ’From profit-area to common gain’ is how Tialda Haartsen (Professor of Rural Geography at the UG) summed it up. VVD, NSC, SP, and D66 debated the proposition that "’in the coming political term, proportionally more should be invested to cash in on opportunities in the peripheral region’.
The VVD admits: ‘We have not paid enough attention to the region in the past.’ Cost-benefit analyses often penalize areas outside the Randstad. We need to look at where the needs are in these regions. Solutions can be customized. The other parties also recognize the importance of the peripheral region. ‘We are currently in Groningen, where a lot of money has been pumped out of the ground. Yet we are not going to create a divide between Randstad and the peripheral region. But, even in a city there are contradictions,’ SP added. Employment opportunities are decreasing in the regions, but that is not necessary. ’We must take back control of utility companies,’ the party states.
NSC wants a radical change in how we spend our tax money in the Netherlands. Money mostly ends up in the Randstad. ‘Regional hospitals must remain open. VMBOs (preparatory secondary vocational education programmes) and MBOs (secondary vocational education programmes) must be accessible.’ D66 also thinks the money should be spent differently. When allocating budgets for infrastructure, less attention should be paid to population density. Governing closer to the citizen is the only way to restore trust. Building on this, D66 ends with a call to NSC, VVD, and CDA: where are their party leaders at the Debate of the North next week? The debate has been postponed, but can still take place if D66 chooses to. ’Many parties talk about the importance of Groningen, the importance of “the peripheral region”. If that really matters to these parties, you have to take action on that and that starts by showing your face here.’
Traditionally, the UG organizes the National Election Debate on Spatial Planning. We do so with conviction, because an awful lot of pressing social issues come together in spatial planning. The University of Groningen sees it as its social task to contribute to the social and political debate on spatial issues. The tasks facing the Netherlands are huge and we want to show how these can be addressed. That is why our spatial experts lead the debate rounds: To then challenge the candidate members of parliament to form visions on the major spatial issues the Netherlands is facing and make well-informed choices. In the coming years, our scientists will continue to work as knowledge partners for the parliament and civil servants on solutions to these major and topical social issues.
Would you like to watch the debate?
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