Archis 2002 #3

Space and Safety policy document

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Summary

In the coalition agreement of 10 September 2002, the Cabinet expressed its intention to issue a memorandum on space usage and external safety. Several policy directorates of the four ministries involved have drawn up the policy document in consultation with the Association of Netherlands Municipalities, the Inspectorate of Housing and Quality of Life and the Inspectorate of Transport and Waterways. The National Spatial Planning Agency provided the secretariat for the project organization. On 23 December 2002, the Council of Ministers gave the Policy Document on Space and Safety its formal approval. On the basis of this paper the Government will propose certain legislative changes to the Dutch Parliament.

While various disasters at home and abroad have made the Dutch population more conscious of the risks associated with certain land uses, the motive for a Cabinet memorandum on space utilization and external safety is also structural in nature. The implications of the use value and future value of space include greater safety for people and the environment. As indicated in the Fifth Report on spatial planning, Making Space, Sharing Space, the combination of functions and the intensification of space usage are necessary to deal with the present and future pressure on space. For intensive and multiple space usage, a safe combination of functions is in itself already a point for consideration among various bodies. This concern is explicitly called for by the fourth national environmental policy plan (NMP4), A world and a will: working on sustainability. NMP4 itself mentions seven principles for an external safety policy.

In its further proposals for legislative change, the Cabinet intends to proceed on the basis of this Policy Document on Space and Safety and to take advantage of the experiences in the various City and Environment projects, the study of possibilities for more intensive use of industrial and other sites in the context of the Incentive Programme for Intensive Space Utilization (StIR), the Project for the Development of Rotterdam as a Main Port (PMR) and the New Key Projects, as well as insights prevailing in the ‘communities of practice’ of Habiforum, Expertise Network for Multiple Space Use.

(1) The Cabinet distinguishes three categories of current issues concerning safety in the use value and future value of space. Technical knowledge of chemical risks and of protective structures constitute the first category. New Government policy is not yet required here. Considerable ongoing research in this area and existing knowledge is accessible through various organizations in the building sector and the spatial planning profession. The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment has an authoritative role in this area.

(2) The second category of issues are of a juridical nature. The poor integration of legal requirements with regard to housing, building and environmental management may prompt, among other things, an amendment act respecting the fundamental revision of the Spatial Planning Act. As well as in laws and regulations, objections are conceivable in the sphere of civil legal liability and insurance costs. The fear is sometimes expressed that the Netherlands is likely to develop a ‘claims culture’ which will impact negatively on countless activities. To gain a better understanding of this, the Minister of Justice is preparing to appoint a State Commission on Financial Safety in Public Dealings. This commission will be required to issue conclusive recommendations within the lifetime of the present Cabinet. With regard to this category of issues, the Cabinet will also give additional attention within the Council of Ministers to the technical requirements of the EU with regards to means of transport.

(3) The third category of issues are of a financial nature. Although efforts must be made to prevent ill-considered expenditures (and so-called ‘gold plating’) under the pressure from incidents and short-term media interest, it is inevitable that substantial investments will have to be made in connection with external safety. This relates to the responsibilities of both public and private parties. Public–private collaboration thus remains one of the priorities in connection with spatial investments. The Public Private Partnership Knowledge Centre, which comes under the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance, has a supportive role in this area. Supplementary to this, an interdepartmental working committee with members drawn from the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Transport and Waterways, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Housing and Quality of Life will look into the question of what fiscal measures are desirable and possible to promote safety in connection with building and habitation.

Spatial quality, as an objective of spatial policy, consists not only of the use value and future value of space. Besides issues of functionality, efficiency and ecological sustainability, there are social-cultural and social-psychological aspects of space usage. Spatial policy is intended to benefit the social and experiential world of the public. Perceptual value is therefore also part of the concept of spatial quality.

(4a) In order to do justice to the perceptual value, a fourth category of issues is distinguished with regard to safety and space. The human perception of dangers issuing from among other things traffic and transport and from industry, is a prime point for consideration here. The construction of a high speed rail line in the Netherlands is associated with large-scale changes in the city centres of Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Arnhem and Breda; investments are also being made in the railway station zones in Leiden and Delft. Heavy infrastructure and a high building density entail technical risks and high costs. The investments in these station zones will not be possible without careful decision-making processes and local public support. Public support for the redevelopment of city-centre station zones will depend on, among other things, adequate public information and suitable provisions for e.g. the rail transportation of dangerous goods. Potential public disquiet regarding external safety merits a response here from the point of view of policy. This is also a topic of consultation between the Ministry of Transport and Waterways and the rail infrastructure operating companies. Adequate public information and opportunities for public consultation and participation in the policy formation process are equally relevant in connection with the location of industry and the management of sites. Government authorities, companies and institutions generally approach external safety as a complex combination of technical issues, for which knowledge and expertise are of the greatest importance. Although major advances are evident in industrial and structural engineering, transportation and medical technology, uncertainties and risks are intrinsic to human existence. The guideline Space for the River, for example, aims to raise public awareness of the fact that much of the Netherlands is below sea-level and that its inhabitants live in the midst of a complex river delta. Without this awareness, there will be no base of public support for the required investments in e.g. the reinforcement of dikes or increased land reservation for river flood plains. Although risks can be lowered by improvements in river management or air traffic control, it is understood that certain risks have to be accepted.

(4b) A further point for consideration is public safety. Current issues with regard to safety in the perceptual value of space are often a primary responsibility of lower tiers of government, such as municipalities, water boards and the provinces. There is wide recognition of the social importance of public space and certain demands that can be placed upon the care for collective (largely urban) space. The reality of the multicultural society and the development of a diversity of lifestyles compels the reinterpretation of differences from a source of conflict to a source of enrichment. The Ministry of Housing and Quality of Life working jointly with the Association of Netherlands Municipalities, is to formulate a programme to assist municipalities in promoting public safety. The potential financial aspects of this programme will be integrated into the GSB/ISV policy of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Housing and Quality of Life. The Cabinet is holding consultations with the Spatial Planning Office, the Social and Cultural Planning Office and the VNG-SGBO on the possibility of a public safety monitor.

During the current Cabinet period, members of government with direct responsibility will report annually to the Lower House on progress with regard to space usage and external safety. A definite decision on a public safety monitor will be taken in the near future.