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Long-term planning essential to improve the Dutch infrastructure

The roads are full, traffic jams are only getting longer and politicians are taking it in turns to say that the problem can be solved ‘just like that’. Virtually impossible, says Jos Arts, Professor of Infrastructure and the Environment at the University of Groningen . ‘The problem is a complex one, so the answers are not going to be simple either.’ Long-term planning, that’s the solution according to Arts. ‘Simpler and faster is just not going to work. But if we take a broader view and concentrate our planning on the long term, we’ll certainly get things going again.

The problems of the infrastructure in the Netherlands have rapidly become more and more complex. Everybody wants to have a car and drive it wherever they want. But at the same time, no-one wants to lose their back garden to new or wider roads. ‘The Dutch think having their own car is very important’, comments Arts. ‘I drive therefore I am, is their motto. Because no-one wants to give up their cars, it’s essential to work on a better infrastructure.’

Stalled planning

It’s not surprising that many plans concerning the Dutch road network have stalled, in Arts’s opinion: ‘We’re dealing with major interests like health and property, where different parties have different opinions.’ Air and noise pollution, a lack of space, commuter traffic and the economy are all factors that play a role. They all contribute to making the infrastructure/environment dilemma even greater.

Struggle approach

Arts expects part of the environmental problem to resolve itself in the next few years because cars are becoming increasingly cleaner and more efficient. But there’s a long way to go yet. After all, however clean and efficient a car is, if it’s in a traffic jam it’s being wasteful. Thus far, the reaction of the government to these problems has been to work harder. Arts calls this the struggle approach: ‘The procedures are abbreviated, all kinds of promises are made and plans pushed through. However, the resistance is not resolved and interested parties pay “successful” visits to the courts. It’s clear that this is not leading to the desired results.’

Long-term solution

Arts: ‘Simple solutions only work for simple projects. When you are talking about situations that have been stalled for years and where socioeconomic developments and environmental interests are in serious conflict, then you have to search for a long-term solution. It’s not going to be resolved with one decision. A complex problem needs a wide-ranging, varied and above all long-term solution. This can be achieved by taking a broader approach to time, space, and above all to the parties involved.’

Cumbersome instruments

The role of government has to change, believes Arts: ‘Decision-making about infrastructure is now primarily a long and complicated legal process. The Directorate General for Public Works and Water Management (RWS) has a wide set of instruments and takes on many of the development, research, decision-making and implementation roles itself. That has to change. RWS is no longer all powerful and has to rid itself of its sugar daddy syndrome. Let others contribute towards the development, decision-making and costs.’

Multiple use of space

Arts: ‘Start by not putting the road first, but the area! What are the possibilities for multiple use of space? Investigate what is needed to develop an area and set this out in a strategic vision with clear agreements that take account of future developments.’ The market could become more involved, too. If you involve different market parties at an early stage and interweave the invitation to tender with an environmental effects report and planning procedures, then according to Arts you can create a market force mechanism in which innovative alternatives are developed that also take account of future management and maintenance, that is relevant for those living nearby.

Create a market

The responsibility for the infrastructure has ended up with the government because there was no market for it. Project developers have always found roads rather uninteresting. ‘But just imagine if the government made funds available for inventive, creative and above all long-term solutions in which road infrastructure was combined with offices or houses – then you create a market. That would put government back into its own, original role: assessing and checking whether the public interest is being respected instead of being the developer.’

Curriculum Vitae

Jos Arts ( Groningen , 1967) studied social geography / planning at the University of Groningen and gained his PhD in 1998. After his PhD research he spent time as a researcher and advisor for RWS, first with the Tracé/m.e.r. centre, later as the head of the Infrastructure and Environmental Measures department. He is currently the Top Advisor for the Living Environment.

Information

Prof. E.J.M.M. Arts, tel. 0653748103, e-mail: e.j.m.m.arts@rug.nl or jos.arts@rws.nl
Last modified:15 September 2017 3.10 p.m.
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