Executive summary of the NOVI

The document before you is the National Strategy on Spatial Planning and the Environment (Nationale Omgevingsvisie - NOVI), in which national government presents its long-term vision on the future development of the living environment in the Netherlands.

 In the Netherlands, we are facing a number of urgent societal challenges, at regional, national and international level. The large and complex challenges such as climate change, the energy transition, the circular economy, accessibility and (the building of) houses are set to bring about major changes in the Netherlands. We already have a long tradition of adaptation. Against that background, we can use these challenges to move forwards and at the same time to preserve the Netherlands as an attractive nation for future generations.

 The NOVI represents a perspective for tackling these major challenges, for making our country even more attractive and stronger while building further on the existing landscape and historical cities. The key term is environmental quality, or more precisely spatial quality combined with the quality of the environment, all taking into account societal values and substantive standards for example with regard to health, safety and the natural environment. In that interplay of standards, values and collective ambitions, the aim of the NOVI is to promote cooperation between all stakeholders.

 The NOVI in fact proposes a new, integrated approach that brings together all levels of government and civil society, all with greater control from national government. By constantly and carefully considering all the affected interests, we will work towards our priorities: space for climate adaptation and energy transition, sustainable (circular) economic growth potential, strong and healthy cities and regions and the futureproof development of rural areas.

The sustainable renewal of the Netherlands is a long-term process. At the same time, current developments challenge our capacity to respond rapidly to developments in society.
The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, illustrates just how vulnerable we are. The Cabinet is currently working on a policy for economic recovery. It is essential that this recovery policy also serves our objectives in terms of policy for the living environment, for the longer term. In that way, short-term problem solving will remain in line with the strategic vision expressed in the NOVI. That combination creates possibilities for utilising opportunities for synergy, for example by opting for recovery measures that not only contribute to public health but also to improving the quality and sustainability of the living environment.

With regard to each of the four NOVI priorities referred to above, both short-term and long-term measures will be needed, that constantly interact with one another, in practice:

  1.  Already the Netherlands is facing longer periods of drought. This increases the urgent need to improve the match between water consumption and the available water supply, and that we retain water, for longer. This is just one example of the essential choices that already need to be taken and that have a major impact on the physical living environment. Functions that use the physical living environment must be better harmonised with the characteristics of the soil and water system. These choices will contribute to achieving a climate-resilient situation by 2050, in which the Netherlands is prepared for climate change and sea level rise.  We must also consider the energy transition: already today, that process is demanding that we make choices that take account of long-term effects. At sea we are seeking to secure space for wind turbines. The recently established North Sea Agreement reveals the presence of many other interests. On land, the main infrastructure for the transport and storage of renewable energy is already revealing shortcomings, in certain areas. As we approach 2050, the proportion of renewable energy is due to increase further. That then will require further adjustments to the energy infrastructure. The challenge of finding space for the sources of renewable energy is itself considerable. Against that background, the NOVI provides potential solutions that all take account of the quality of the living environment in integrating the energy infrastructure.
  2.   In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are working hard to mitigate the consequences for our economy as far as possible. In the short term, those efforts demand unheard of government interventions and investments. The real skill lies in helping to ensure that those interventions and investments also serve our long-term ambition, namely making our energy supply renewable and our economy circular, while bolstering the quality of our living environment. 
    In selecting the locations for offices, business parks, large-scale logistic functions and data centers, together with the demands of businesses and economic vitality, connections to the traffic and transport network and the electricity grid, we are also considering the attractiveness and quality of the urban and rural environment. Our goal is to encourage active clustering of (large-scale) logistic functions at logistic hubs located alongside (inter)national corridors.
  3. The role of the NOVI is to build towards strong, attractive and healthy cities. We will continue working towards the development and expansion of Netherlands Urban Network, with the aim of creating an easily accessible network of cities and regions. At the same time, the huge current demand for housing calls for urgent solutions. For the short term, the Cabinet has therefore proposed a package of measures aimed at delivering a new, solid boost to house building.
    The locations for new residential areas are based in the Netherlands Urban Network, and this development is taking place in line with the ambition of the integrated urbanisation strategy, wherever possible within existing urban areas, while remaining climate resilient and nature inclusive. Large areas of open space between the cities are set to retain their green character.
    The range and quality of green facilities in our cities will be reinforced, with improved links to green areas outside the cities. The COVID-19 crisis has further underlined the huge importance of the sound layout and use of public space.
  4. The nitrogen problem has had a huge influence both on rural areas and a number of economic sectors. The value of our nature, the landscape and the future of agriculture are all under pressure. Enhancing biodiversity is clearly not only an ecological but specifically also an economic challenge that is calling for an urgent short-term response. Nonetheless, sustainable solutions take time. For the longer term, we are therefore working towards a gradual and carefully considered restructuring of our rural areas, also with the aim of establishing cyclic agriculture in sound balance with the nature and landscape values. This will help establish rural areas that offer a pleasant environment for living, working and recreation, while still permanently offering space for economic viable agriculture, as a key driver for the rural environment.

In other words, we will tackle the challenges facing us while continuing to develop a long-term strategy for overcoming those challenges.

The combination of all these ambitions will place huge demands on our living environment. A whole raft of interests and claims must be given the space they need in the 41,000 square kilometres that make up the Netherlands. Not everything will be possible, and certainly not everything will be possible everywhere. Clashes are inevitable. The question is how can we cash in on the opportunities available to us, while still facing up to the potential threats: what do we need to realise our ambitions? In this process, national government must and will take the lead. Shortages mean that choices will have to be made. Based on the vision of the NOVI, national government is offering frameworks and guidelines for both national and local choices. But we must remember that national government is not granting itself a role as a centralising force. Indeed, the responsibility is borne jointly by all parties. Within national government, our aim is to help guide the process of interplay, while continuing to monitor our national interests. We have no intention of evading the dilemmas facing us. Instead we will specifically create opportunities by joining forces in achieving our shared ambitions. Those opportunities will help us improve the quality of our living environment and in that way encourage new opportunities for social cohesion and economic recovery, solidly embedding the possibilities for clean, safe and sustainable technologies - which in turn contribute to our intended transition towards a sustainable and circular society - in our way of life and our working practice.

As part of that process, we will clearly identify the national interests, make national choices, offer guidance for local considerations and encourage an area-specific approach. The aim of the NOVI is to arrive at sound choices in specific areas. We want to do what is best for the whole of the Netherlands, while at the same time doing justice to the individuality of the various regions. Because every part of the Netherlands matters.

These objectives will demand sound cooperation between national and provincial government, water authorities and municipalities, and between the public and private sector, the institutions of civil society and individual citizens. All of these parties have been consulted intensively in the drawing up of the NOVI strategy. In the implementation of the NOVI, for example in the Environment Agendas and the Regional Investment Agendas, we aim to continue that collaboration.

The central element of balanced interests is the balanced use of the physical living environment, both above and below ground. This is referred to as an ‘environment-inclusive’ policy. In bringing about that policy, the NOVI distinguishes three consideration principles: 1) Combinations of functions take precedence over single functions, 2) Characteristics and the identity of an area are key points for focus, and 3) The shifting of responsibilities must be prevented.
In implementing the NOVI, national government will clearly demonstrate how the environment-inclusive approach will take shape, and how the consideration principles will be utilised.

Control also means guiding the considerations by other levels of government in what is known as the preferred order. To give an example from practice: our preference is for the installation of solar panels on the roofs and facades of buildings; if that proves impossible, the next option will be unused areas of land within the built environment. If that too is not an option, we will shift our focus to the rural areas. In this way, within the NOVI, national government will help guide the futureproof development of our living environment, without imposing an unbending blueprint. Together with all our partners, we must constantly go in search of the best options for responding to current developments. The NOVI is a cyclic and adaptive process; hence the monitoring process linked to this vision document.

The NOVI is accompanied by an Implementation Agenda, which explains how national government will fulfil its role in implementing the NOVI plans. The Implementation Agenda will for example include an overview of instruments and (area-specific) programmes in the various fields of policy. If necessary, the Implementation Agenda will be updated annually.

Transport, industry, house building, mobility, retail trade and agricultural businesses: climate adaptation, the energy transition, the transition to a circular economy and the nitrogen management problem affect us all, in every part of the Netherlands. The aboveground and underground environment, on and offshore, urban and rural areas are inextricably linked. The new approach put forward in the NOVI is effectively a clarion call for cultural change, with the aim of arriving at a coherent and inspirational vision for our living environment.

On the road to 2050, the Netherlands will function as a network of well-connected cities and regions backed up by a high-speed, sustainable and comfortable system of mobility and transport. At the same time, living, working, nature, landscape and facilities in our towns and cities will gradually become increasingly interconnected. We will live closer to our workplace, will be able to work more from home and will enjoy more green in our immediate residential environment, and we will walk and cycle more often. These processes are closely tied to issues regarding digitalisation and mobility and accessibility.

No matter where we live in the Netherlands, our interests are closely intertwined and often go beyond the local domain. At the same time, the quality of our everyday living environment will determine our view of the major issues of the day.

The NOVI represents the integrated approach by national government focused on cooperation. It is an area-specific consideration framework and guiding vision in one, within which together we can optimise our efforts in maintaining the quality of life in a healthy and economically strong Netherlands.

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