Just think of the rugged Wadden area, the big skies, urban planning, architecture and nature. The beauty of the Netherlands is under pressure. After all, the Netherlands is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Space is needed for living, working, nature, recreation and mobility.

If an area is being developed properly, all the various interest groups will be given a voice. More than before the provincial governments and municipalities have the freedom to decide how to structure their regions. All new spatial plans of the state, provincial governments and municipalities can be viewed at Ruimtelijkeplannen.nl.

Quality of life

Most people in the Netherlands live in close proximity to each other in towns and cities. Therefore it is difficult to maintain the quality of the environment. Problems can arise due to environmental influences, but also social safety may come under pressure. In order to maintain the quality of the living environment at a high level, the government is working on the restructuring of neighbourhoods and the reduction of air pollution and noise pollution in the living environment. It is also working on making the streets safer and on providing sufficient greenery.

Human environment and health

The living environment influences the health of the people who live in it. For example, attractive and safe cycling and walking routes, parks and play areas make it more fun to exercise and that is good for your health. In practice there are sometimes difficulties. Imagine, for example, a place designated for a playground which now lies right beside a busy road. It is therefore important to weigh up the possible health effects, preferably in consultation with the people who live there. This can be done, for example, with the Place Standard; what do you actually think of the place you live in?

Assessing health

For healthy environmental planning it is important that the possible effects on health are properly assessed in advance. Various methods exist for doing this and each has their advantages and disadvantages. The choice depends on the exact goal of the health assessment. Here we discuss two, namely the Environmental Health Risk (MGR) and the Health Effect Screening (GES). You can find other instruments on the Healthy Environmental Planning website.

Environmental Health Risk

Spacial area health risks

RIVM developed the Environmental Health Risk map. The aim was to map the combined health effects of air pollution and ambient noise. The map shows that the health effects are determined by the location of towns and cities, roads, industry and airports.

Policymakers often look for places where building is still possible without worsening the health of local residents. Often there is an accumulation of risk factors. Noise exposure is also high at locations where there is a lot of air pollution. The Environmental Health Risk can be used to show the effect of new plans on the entire area under study. Are the burdens being shared (more) equally?

On average around 5-6%* of all illnesses and deaths in the Netherlands can be attributed to environmental factors. Study our map to see your location's score. On the map it is quite easy to identify towns and cities and motorways and other roads. That is where the accumulation of noise and air pollution is the greatest. The outcomes are estimates and intended to show the differences from one place to another. More information can be found on the Healthy Environmental Planning website.

* This percentage comes from the 2014 Public Health Foresight Study [Volksgezondheid Toekomst Verkenning] (VTV). A more recent estimate assumes 4% rather than 5-6% (VTV). The four-year Public Health Foresight Study (VTV) provides insight into the most important societal challenges for public health and health care in the Netherlands. -2018). RIVM is therefore going to update the map in 2019.

Health Effect Screening

The Health Effect Screening is another method for promoting health. It not only includes air and noise, but also (lack of) safety, odour and radiation. The provincial governments of Noord-Brabant and Utrecht use, for example, health effect screening maps to support policy-making. Municipal health services also use this method. More information can be found in their guide. Different colours on the map indicate the extent of the negative health consequences (see table). Green is good and red is bad. Red means that the living environment does not fulfil the legal standards. The provincial governments in Utrecht combine the health effect screening map with the location of, for example, schools and hospitals. That is because these are locations where people come to/live who may be (extra) sensitive to health effects. In this way the problems become visible.

Tabel of Environmental Health Quality

Spatial Planning Act and the Environmental and Planning Act

The Spatial Planning Act is an important law in the context of spatial decision-making. The law describes the division of roles between the state, the provincial governments and the municipalities. The Spatial Planning Act is the instrument for distributing spatial needs such as living, working, recreation, mobility, water and nature on the basis of a coherent approach.

Other laws related to spatial planning are the Environmental Law (General Provisions) Act and the Transport Infrastructure (Planning Procedures) Act. The government is going to replace the WRO and various other laws with the Environmental and Planning Act. This law will make the taking of decisions on spatial projects faster and simpler.

Structural vision and zoning plans

The state, provincial governments and municipalities create structural visions for their own area. These include the global plans which the government has for a particular area. The National Policy Strategy for Infrastructure and Spatial Planning contains the state's plans on space and mobility in 2040. For example, in the Structural Vision the government describes which infrastructure projects they want to invest in during the coming years as well as how the existing infrastructure can be used more effectively. The plans give the provincial and municipal governments more room to manoeuvre in the field of spatial planning.

The municipalities' structural visions are implemented via changes to the zoning plan. A zoning plan is used to record the intended use and type of building in an area. For example, it stipulates whether a residential neighbourhood or industrial estate may be built and whether any high-rise or low-rise buildings are permitted.

When the Environment and Planning Act comes into force, structural visions and zoning plans are to be replaced by environmental visions and environmental plans.

What can citizens do?

Anyone who wants to build or make alterations needs a variety of permits. In order to make it easy for citizens and companies, the permits for building, living, monuments, space, nature and the environment have been combined into a single All-in-one Permit for Physical Aspects. You can apply for this permit digitally via The Online Environmental Desk.

What can professionals do?

There are all kinds of ways in which your living environment can be organised (more) healthily. If you need some inspiration, you should check the Healthy Living Environment Guide.