The changing face of Dutch national spatial planning


  • Wil Zonneveld TU Delft, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment



Unnoticed by the wider public and the majority of professional planners, a symbolic event took place on 12 November 2010. Directly following a reorganization of the public sector by the new government taking office that year, the letters of the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment — VROM according to its Dutch acronym — were scraped off the façade of the main building in The Hague. Compared to the United Kingdom, where the name, scope, aim and composition of ministries are changed virtually every election period, ministries in the Netherlands are relatively protected from the caprices and vacillations of party politics and prime ministers. VROM was an institution in more than one sense of the word, and “spatial planning” (the RO in VROM) had been part of its name since 1965 (Siraa et al., 1995: 64). In the title of the new ministry — Infrastructure and the Environment — spatial planning is conspicuously absent. 

The removal of the letters represents more than a symbolic act: it reflects the stated intent of the new government to “leave spatial planning more up to provinces and municipalities” (Coalition Agreement, 2010: 38). Within a year of assuming office, the new ministry published its new spatial planning strategy which minimizes planning at the national level (Ministerie van IenM, 2011; final version: Ministerie van IenM, 2012). With this, the tradition of national urbanization policies such as growth centers, new towns, buffer zones, the Green Heart and VINEX had come to a close (Faludi & Van der Valk, 1994; Zonneveld, 2007). To foreign eyes, these changes may seem drastic and sudden, but they are actually part of a gradual systemic change. 

Since the early 1990s, the external institutional environment of national spatial planning has transformed fundamentally. National housing policy, once a key partner in helping spatial planning steer urban development, has largely been privatized (Salet, 1999). Agricultural policy, once instrumental in protecting rural areas from urban encroachment, has weakened under increased EU influence and reform. On the other hand, the powerful national transport and infrastructure department, whose relationship to planning was as much one of rivalry as partnership (Siraa et al., 1995; Priemus, 1999) has now merged with planning. The same is true for regional economic policy: this has become the main spatial policy thrust. 


Albrechts, L., (2006) Shifts in strategic spatial planning? Some evidence from Europe and Australia, Environment and Planning A, Vol. 38, No. 6, pp. 1149-1170.

CEC, Commission of the European Communities (1997) The EU Compendium of spatial planning systems and policies, Luxembourg: European Commission.

Coalition Agreement (2010) Freedom and Responsibility, agreement between VVD and CDA 30 September, (Last accessed: August 2011).

Faludi, A. (1999) Patterns of Doctrinal Development, Journal of Planning Education and Research, Vol. 18, No. 4, pp. 333-344.

Faludi, A., van der Valk, A. (1994) Rule and Order: Dutch Planning Doctrine in the Twentieth Century, Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Ministerie van Infrastructuur en Milieu (2011) Ontwerp Structuurvisie Infrastructuur en Ruimte [Draft National Policy Strategy for Infrastructure and Spatial Planning], Den Haag: Ministerie van IenM.

Ministerie van Infrastructuur en Milieu (2012) Structuurvisie Infrastructuur en Ruimte [National Policy Strategy for Infrastructure and Spatial Planning], Den Haag: Ministerie van IenM [English summary:; last accessed: June 2016].

NSCGP (1999) Spatial Development Policy; Summary of the 53rd report, Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy Reports to the Government no.53, The Hague: SDU Publishers.

Priemus, H. (1999) Four ministries, four spatial planning perspectives? Dutch evidence on the persistent problem of horizontal coordination, European Planning Studies, Vol. 7, No. 5, pp. 563-585.

Roodbol-Mekkes, P. H, Van der Valk, A.J.J., Korthals Altes, W. K, (2012) The Netherlands spatial planning doctrine in disarray in the 21st century, Environment and Planning A, Vol. 44, No. 2, pp. 377 — 395.

Salet, W. (1999) Regime shifts in Dutch Housing Policy, Housing Studies, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp. 547-557.

Siraa, T., van der Valk, A.J., Wissink, W.L. (1995) Met het oog op de omgeving: Een geschiedenis van de zorg voor de kwaliteit van de leefomgeving [Focus on the environment; A history of the care for the quality of the physical environment]; Het ministerie van Volkshuisvesting, Ruimtelijke Ordening en Milieubeheer (1965-1995), Den Haag: SDU-Uitgevers.

Warbroek, B. (2011) Planologie zonder plan [Planning without a plan], Binnenlands Bestuur, 21 mei, pp. 28-35.

Zonneveld, W. (2007) A Sea of Houses: Preserving Open Space in an Urbanised Country, Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, Vol. 50, No. 5, pp. 657-675.




How to Cite

Zonneveld, W. (2017). The changing face of Dutch national spatial planning. International Planning History Society Proceedings, 17(6), 21–23.