TPR, 59 (2) 1988
H. W. E. DAVIES
The control of development in the
This article describes the control of development in the Netherlands as it has
evolved since the first Act in 190I. The control is exercised by municipalities
within a framework of national and regional policies and legally binding
bestemmingsplannen or 'local' plans. The article discusses the various measures
used to introduce flexibility into an otherwise rigid system of planning control
based on a fundamental concept of legal certainty protected by the
Constitution. These measures have culminated in the 1985 reform of the
planning legislation, giving new opportunities for deregulation and flexibility in
control, combined with new forms of control in older areas of towns through
the Town and Village Renewal Act 1984.
The Netherlands has been described as 'the most planned country' in Europe.'
Whether this is so is a moot point. But undoubtedly it is a highly planned country.
Moreover, it is one in which all development is strictly controlled. With very few
exceptions, all development involving construction or, in most instances, a change
of use, requires permission.
. Physical planning and the control of development in the Netherlands started
sl~ultaneously in 1901 through a Housing Act.' It was a simple system concerned
~Ith planning and controlling extensions to towns, and was gradually widened in
Its scope during the 1930s and 1940s. Then, since 1945, three main themes have
First, regional economic policy was concerned with post-war economic recovery,
especially through the port and industrial developments in the western provinces.
Later, regional policy attempted to counteract the economic imbalance between
the congested, highly urbanised western provinces and the northern provinces
experiencing high unemployment as their agricultural base declined, and those in
the south with a collapsing coal mining economy and obsolete textile industries.
. .~ousing and urbanisation policy was the second theme. It too concentrated
Initially on the western provinces where there was an absolute housing shortage,
especially in the four large cities of Randstadt Holland, and on the problems of
U~ba.n congestion, urban sprawl and the need to conserve the remaining open land
Within the ring of cities, the so-called 'green heart'. Later, during the 1970s and the
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