Cultural heritage has to be protected in order to preserve its unique cultural-historical character and pass that on to subsequent generations.

Monuments with protected status

In the Netherlands national, provincial and municipal monuments are protected because of their cultural-historical value. The cultural-historical character of these monuments has to stay intact. That is why monument owners are not allowed to change something just like that. Well over 450 urban and village conservation areas in the Netherlands are also protected. Thanks to this protected status, the historical character and structure of these areas is preserved. What is more, protection is acknowledgement of the value and importance of these cultural-historical areas and iconic buildings.

Parks and gardens with protected status

The Netherlands has approximately 1,300 parks and gardens with a protected status. They are protected due to their historic construction involving unique plants or other elements such as statues, summerhouses or lakes. These gardens and parks are also referred to as green heritage or green monuments.

Archaeological national monuments with protected status

The archaeological national monuments also have a national protected status because of their historical importance. Over time more attention has been paid to protecting invisible monuments. These historical remains from archaeological sites are best protected in the ground. After all they have been preserved there well for centuries and you can only take up an archaeological site once. What is more, subsequent generations may have other questions about our past.

World Heritage Sites also have protected status

The ten World Heritage sites in the Netherlands also have protected status to ensure that they are safe to be enjoyed by later generations.

The protection of our heritage is relevant because without it we cannot pass it on to subsequent generations. However, if we want to protect our heritage, we must also note the risks that threaten it.

Fire is the most commonly registered heritage incident

Fire in or near a national monument is the type of incident most frequently registered in the Database of Cultural Heritage Incidents. On average 30 to 40 fires are registered each year. Heritage managers are themselves responsible for fire safety and the fire safety regulations do not impose any additional requirements on listed buildings. At the Cultural Heritage Agency's symposium entitled Monuments protected against fire it was stressed that, for an optimal level of safety, heritage managers together with fire safety experts must decide how they can best protect the historical and cultural value of their property. After all, a devastating fire at a heritage site also has a major social impact. 'Ordinary' buildings can be rebuilt but in the case of historical structures or collections, once they are gone they are gone forever.

Tourism: a blessing or a curse?

Increasing tourism offers opportunities for heritage but also represents a threat. More and more people are visiting cultural heritage sites. That is good because more people are experiencing heritage and because tourism also generates income locally. However, tourism unfortunately has its problems because not all heritage sites can cope with large groups of visitors and may become damaged. Excessive numbers of visitors can also put pressure on the balance between operating the site and an enjoyable living and working environment. A good example is the Amsterdam canal ring, which is one of the three most visited World Heritage locations in the Netherlands. For policymakers this means they have to focus on sustainable tourism and on spreading tourism to other (World) Heritage Sites outside the city centre.

The consequences for heritage of earthquakes

Another threat to heritage are the earthquakes as a result of gas extraction in the province of Groningen. The Database of Cultural Heritage Incidents shows that, in the case of 33% of the listed locations in the province of Groningen, at least one incident of damage was reported to the Centre for Safe Living in the period 2012-2017. The damage in question was direct damage to buildings, as well as indirect damage due to preventive reinforcement work. Large interventions may mean that archaeological values (traces from the past which we would like to preserve) are also jeopardised, or even that valuable buildings have to be demolished. This also has consequences for the (cultural) identity of a village or neighbourhood.

The Cultural Heritage Agency is using the Earthquakes and Heritage Programme to encourage the repair and reinforcement of listed buildings while respecting their cultural-historical value, without jeopardising the safety of residents and users. You can see which national monuments are in high risk areas on The National monuments map combined with the Earthquakes map. The Cultural Heritage Agency also wants to help promote environmental quality and the preservation of the identity of the area affected. More information can be found in the assessment framework that the Cultural Heritage Agency has had developed and which may help create a proper balance between safety, the preservation of monumental values and the quality of life of residents.

Incidents involving archaeological national monuments

The majority of incidents involving, or near to, archaeological national monuments concern a disruption to the site due to human actions. The most common causes are excavation work and illegal digging. It often transpires that the person responsible for the excavation work is unaware that the site in question is of archaeological importance.

Designation of protected heritage

Who decides whether heritage is valuable enough to be protected? The Cultural Heritage Agency decides, on behalf of the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, whether a building is going to be included on the National monuments list. Currently, the Agency only accepts new monuments very infrequently and usually these are buildings from the period of reconstruction after the Second World War. The Agency is currently focusing on improving the national monuments database and not on increasing its size.

Provincial monuments are chosen by provincial governments via the provincial heritage by-law. Municipalities can designate a monument and enter it into the municipal monument list. Urban and village conservation areas are chosen by the Ministers of Education, Culture and Science and Infrastructure and Water Management in collaboration with the municipalities and provincial governments.

The Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE) assesses which archaeological sites have to be protected on the basis of studies. This is always done in consultation with the municipality and other stakeholders.

Protection of cultural heritage

The government also prescribes rules and takes measures to ensure the protection of valuable cultural heritage:

  • Protection of national monuments. A permit is often required before work can be carried out on a national monument in order to ensure that the character of the building is preserved. Local authorities may also take action against owners if they allow a (national) monument to fall into serious disrepair.
  • Protection of municipal and provincial monuments. The rights and obligations with regard to protecting municipal and provincial monuments are laid down in a provincial or municipal monuments by-law or in zoning plans
  • Protection of urban and village conservation areas. In the event of developments within an urban or village conservation area, account has to be taken of the cultural-historical value. Any protected area has a zoning plan, which is more detailed and stricter than a normal zoning plan. In addition, a permit is required for a number of building activities.
  • Protection of green heritage. An all-in-one permit for physical aspects is often required for changes to a green monument on the grounds of the Environmental Law (General Provisions) Act [Wet algemene bepalingen omgevingsrecht]. The local authority assesses which work this actually covers. In the event of any changes to green heritage the owner therefore applies to the local authority for an all-in-one permit for physical aspects. No permit is usually required for ordinary maintenance work on green heritage.
  • Protection of archaeological national monuments. For work which changes or disrupts an archaeological protected monument, a permit is required which the Cultural Heritage Agency can issue on behalf of the Minister of OCW. The Agency has drawn up a guideline for each individual national monument which indicates which soil interventions can be carried out without a monument permit. An all-in-one permit for physical aspects is almost always required in order to build on archaeological sites. This is regulated in the local authority's zoning plan. Local authorities also have an important role to play in protecting archaeological sites. They have to take account of possible archaeological sites in zoning plans and permits. If, for example, there are plans to build homes on an archaeological site, the party behind the plans has to carry out a preliminary archaeological study. The local authority then takes a decision on the basis of that study. The party behind the plans must, for example, preserve or excavate historical remains.
  • Protection of World Heritage Sites in the Netherlands. Every six years the Netherlands has to inform the World Heritage Committee about what it has done to ensure the proper implementation of the World Heritage Convention, the state of repair of Dutch World Heritage Sites, what has been done to preserve the special universal value and about any future alteration plans, restorations or spatial interventions on or around World Heritage Sites in the Netherlands. The World Heritage Committee then approves the proposed plans. If a country were to implement a rejected plan, the Committee can remove the monument from the World Heritage List.

If you own a monument yourself, you can read how you can best protect it on a number of different sites:

  • Safe Heritage. Safe Heritage makes you aware of the risks, incidents and crises. How can you, as a heritage manager, reduce the probability of an incident and which measures can you take to prevent further damage? The website offers information about risk management and preventive measures.
  • provides information to other owners of listed buildings regarding the financial possibilities, maintenance and legislation and regulations. Increasing owners' knowledge ensures that valuable buildings are preserved.
  • Protection against fire. Download the handbook entitled The essential structural points to check published by Brandveilig Bouwen Nederland. You may also learn a great deal from the lessons given during the symposium entitled Protecting monuments against fire during which it is emphasised that simply complying with the law is not enough and that heritage managers must take measures based on their own fire safety vision.