Context railway station area redevelopment in the Netherlands

The publication in 1986 of the document Verdichting rond stations ('Densifying around stations') (Bureau voor Stedebouw Zandvoort, 1986) was a particularly explicit example of many signs that railway station area redevelopment was taking off in the Netherlands. In that document, jointly commissioned by the environment and transport ministries and by the Dutch railways, densification of station areas is advocated as the logical corollary of compact city policies and of the promotion of public transport. From that moment onwards, the context has evolved. The mixed success of the projects has forced the sponsors to reconsider the approach repeatedly. Still, the redevelopment of railway station areas has remained high on the government agenda, and is also climbing on the agenda of the market. In 1993 van Nierop identified as many as 50 station area projects in the country (Figure 6.1).

National land-use and transport policy has given strong impetus to the redevelopment of railway station areas in the Netherlands. Its most striking components are:

• A location policy. The 1988/91 national Fourth Report on Physical Planning/Extra (Ministry of Housing, Physical Planning and Environment, 1991a) pays special attention to mobility and urbanization issues. In particular, it expresses great concern for the negative effects of current transport trends on both the environment (pollution, energy and land consumption) and the economy (road congestion). Among other measures, an answer is sought in a location policy: the so-called ABC policy. Its main thrust is to promote the concentration of activities that generate passenger traffic around public transportation nodes.

• Investment in public transport. Based on the same environmental and economic considerations, public transport is strongly supported in the 1990 Second Transport Structure Plan. Accordingly, public transport accounts for a high share of government investment. For rail transport in particular, the aim of doubling the number of passengers in the year 2010 is formulated in the Rail 21 programme. Rail 21 is a countrywide package of projects resulting in the highest investment per kilometre of rail in Europe (Rail Business Report, 1994). That trend is reinforced by the special priority given by the current governing coalition to investment in transport infrastructure. Partly thanks to this impetus, the long-awaited construction of high-speed train links to France (HSL Zuid) and Germany (HSL Oost) is finally under way.

• Urban key projects. The Fourth Report also advocates reinforcing the competitive position of the main urban nodes, which are seen as the engines of economic growth. Strategic urban development projects promoted by municipalities and involving private partners—the so-called key projects—are deemed essential in reaching this goal, and are supported accordingly. In this way, national policy endorses city marketing initiatives of the municipalities, as well as their efforts to strengthen the role of the urban core. Essentially, city authorities are trying to attract service employment, and stem the outflow of middle-class residents. Several of the key projects are railway station area redevelopment projects, as in The Hague, Utrecht, Groningen, and Amersfoort.

While the national government has been defining the criteria for the allocation of subsidies, the initiative for specific projects has been typically taken up by municipalities (in most cases) and/ or the railway company (until recently with essentially a transport focus). Relationships between these and other relevant actors (private actors, local transport companies, local interest groups) have not always been smooth. Especially in the more complex projects, this may have been the main stumbling block. One of the most ambitious station redevelopment plans in the country, the Utrecht Centrum Project (UCP, see below), is a good example of how difficulties in building consensus have had a paralysing effect (Bertolini, 1996b), but also of how a working understanding might be now emerging.

The picture is evolving. The Dutch railways (NS) are in the midst of a privatization process, the final outcome of which is still uncertain. NS is moving away from being a state bureaucracy providing transport services. It is moving towards becoming a private-style business, with transport of passengers and goods as its core activities. The commercial exploitation of stations and other property assets is seen as a complementary, profit-generating activity. Accordingly, NS is increasingly active in railway station area redevelopment. The process is slow, however. NS-Vastgoed, the property division of the railway company, was set up only in 1994.

The market sector—and particularly the role of actors as landowners, developers, investors, and their consultants—is gaining importance in railway station area redevelopment in the Netherlands. The financial involvement of these actors has been considered essential since the beginning. However, they have tended to remain sceptical about the potential of station areas. They argued that government policies should have been more selective in order to make private investment attractive. Seldom have private actors taken the initiative. The interesting innovations are projects at locations with both excellent public and private transport accessibility: the so-called 'B' locations in Dutch planning jargon. Intense market dynamics may for instance be observed around stations along the Amsterdam southern railway and motorway trajectory, as at Amsterdam Zuid-WTC (see below) and Amsterdam Bijlmer stations.

Fig. 6.1 National railway network and main station area projects in the Netherlands.

The Utrecht Centrum Project as node and place

6.3.1 The node

Because of its central position in the national railway network (Figure 6.1) Utrecht Centraal is the second biggest railway station in the country. About 110000 passengers make daily use of the interchange (1997). An additional 65 000 leave or take buses or trams to or from this point. It is a node with intense growth prospects: the expectations are that by 2015 it will handle around 205 000 passengers a day, or almost double the present amount. The through station was already radically transformed in the 1970s by adopting a 'bridge over the tracks' design. Within the framework of the Rail 21 national investment programme, other ambitious infrastructure works have been completed more recently. For instance, there has been an increase in the number and multilevel branching of the tracks, and an adaptation of existing road underpasses. Other changes are planned for the near future. These include an extension of the platforms, a new car and bicycle tunnel, a new 'compact' bus station, new parking spaces for cars and bicycles, and rationalization of car access. Further expansions and adaptations will be required by the envisaged connection to the HST to Germany and to the new Randstad regional railway network.

Most importantly, following a recent joint initiative of all the transport operators active in the node, these and other new projects have been brought under the unifying plan for a Mainport Utrecht (GVU et al., 1996). A one-terminal concept for the interchange will be applied (Figure 6.2). Here 200 000 passenger movements (exchanges) per day will take place. The same level of quality for all transport means must be obtained, and this quality must extend into the surroundings. Accessory commercial services (essentially shops) in the station will complement the transport services. Interchange will be the central concept. Priority will be given to the integrated logistics of the user, instead of that of autonomous transport companies. International, national and regional trains, and buses, trams, taxis and innovative forms of collective transport will all be accessible from a single 'station balcony'. This will require, among other measures, re-routeing bus and tram lanes next to the railway tracks, digging an east-west tunnel for local transport, and providing operational space underground—all under an enormous, futuristic station roof spanning 230x360 metres.

6.3.2 The place

The station area of Utrecht Centraal (Figure 6.3) has already been radically restructured once before. In the 1960s and 1970s, the congress and exhibition centre of the Jaarbeurs, then on the city side, was moved across the tracks to the west, peripheral side. Then Hoog Catharijne was built between the station and the historical city centre. This giant shopping and office complex, which also contains cultural and sports facilities and housing, was erected progressively. Details of this transformation are discussed below. In short, the balance of the operation was essentially positive in economic terms, though much more controversial in urban design terms.

Fig. 6.2 Utrecht Centraal, the one-terminal concept. Levels from top to bottom: roof; passenger hall; north-south tracks and lanes (HST, train, tram, and bus); east-west tracks and lanes (tram and bus). (Source: UCP)
Fig. 6.3 UCP, the place To the left of the tracks, the multifunctional complex of Hoog Catharijne and the historic city. To the right of the tracks, congress and exhibition centre of the Jaarbeurs. (Source: UCP. Photo: KLM Aerocarto)

On the one hand, Hoog Catharijne has provided the centre of the economically dynamic city of Utrecht with the space it needed for the expansion of tertiary activities. This has been accomplished in conjunction with the provision of a highly accessible public transport node. On the other hand, the new shopping and office complex has severed the existing city from the station and neighbourhoods on the other side of the tracks. The location forces all pedestrian flows through a labyrinth of shops, and pours heavy traffic into the surroundings. Today, Utrecht is faced with a new round of similar issues. Following a leap in scale, tertiary activities demand yet more space and greater accessibility. This in turn exacerbates the unsolved difficulty of reconciling the concentration of functions and the growth of transport flows with the liveability of the area and its surroundings. However, this time the integration of these different dimensions is, at least in intention, being faced head on.

6.3.3 The process

Before embarking upon a discussion of the current development process, an account is needed of the previous round of area renewal. That is, it is necessary to review the process by which the Hoog Catharijne (HC) shopping and office complex was built next to Utrecht central station.

HC entered the Utrecht scene in 1962. At that time, a property developer approached the municipality with an integral restructuring plan for the central station area, next to the historic centre. The plan entailed moving the Koninklijke Jaarbeurs (KJ, the congress and exhibition centre) to the peripheral west side of the railway tracks. It also proposed the construction of Hoog Catharijne on the central east side, alongside an envisaged inner motorway ring. This modern complex was supposed to contain shops, offices, and cultural and recreational facilities. Visitors would enter HC from a raised, entirely pedestrian 'ground' floor connecting the station and the city centre, while motorized traffic would be segregated at street level. An ad hoc company, wholly private, would take charge of the design, construction and management of the complex.

The municipality responded enthusiastically. HC appeared to be a brilliant answer to the perceived shortage of space for tertiary development in the historic centre. Furthermore, it seemed to offer a way of adding value to the point of maximum accessibility of the national railway network. A contract with the developers was signed on 25 February 1964. These developers immediately started the implementation of the first phase. However, houses scheduled for demolition were occupied by students and homeless people, who claimed the premises for accommodation. Local groups, later supported in their claims by central government, also opposed filling in the historic canals to make way for the motorway. At the end of the 1960s, the opposition, structured in a multiplicity of interest groups, succeeded in having the canals as well as some residential buildings put on the list of protected monuments, thus forcing some amendments to be made to the plan. Also, local small businesses contested the plans, demanding better integration of the station, HC, and the existing city. The private partners of the municipality, however, remained inflexible. They felt unassailable, since their contract left little room for renegotiation. Construction thus started in 1968. In 1970, part of the complex was inaugurated, including the congress and exhibition centre, a hotel and a sports hall on the west side of the station. The other elements followed. The opposition had to gradually accept the facts. On 23 September 1973 Beatrix, then princess, opened the main component of the plan: a 75 000 m2 shopping and office centre.

UCP, first round: towards the master plan

The linearity with which expansions of Hoog Catharijne follow one another from 1973 onwards is, however, only apparent. Its proven economic successes notwithstanding, there was growing criticism of the failure of the complex to integrate with its surroundings, of the resulting severance of the links between city and station, and of the insecurity of the public spaces. Also, from this evolved perception, in 1986 a new initiative was launched for the restructuring of the area, the Utrecht City Project (UCP). The new plan was promoted by the municipality, which was also the main landowner, in partnership with the other owners of land or buildings. These include the pension fund Algemeen Burgerlijk Pensioenfonds (ABP, since 1982 owner of HC), the congress and exhibition centre Koninklijke Jaarbeurs (KJ), and the national railway company Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS). The initiative responded to several demands. It was partly an effort to solve the cited architectural and urban design shortfalls of the station area through the abatement of barrier and island effects. At the same time, the initiative sought to improve the quality of the public spaces and to diversify the functions. It further sought to reduce car dependence, which was a precondition for obtaining central government funding. But a central objective was also to strengthen the position of the station area and of the city as a location for high-profile tertiary activities.

In 1988 an agreement in principle was reached by the four partners, and a master plan was expected to follow. The reality proved to be much more complicated. Before the master plan, many other plans had to be made, including two interim reports in 1989 and 1991. The most important cause of the delay was the inability to reach firm agreement within the partnership, but there was also increasing pressure on the public actor from local interest groups. In February 1990 inhabitants and environmentalists joined forces in an umbrella group, the Bewoners Overleg City Project (BOCP), to challenge the plan. Once again, their example was followed by small businesses of the central city. The main issues brought forward by BOCP were the traffic impact, the volume of offices, the disappearance of existing green space, and the feared adverse consequences for municipal resources and services. In 1990 a discussion platform was started by the municipality to deal with these concerns. After alternating fortunes, the platform was definitively stopped in 1992. An independent consultancy (Agora) was then commissioned by the municipality to organize the public debate. They too had only partial success. From the discussions, it emerged that two quite distinct interpretations of the UCP existed. On the one hand there was the view held by the partnership, led by compact city and economic policy objectives, with liveability as a by-product. On the other hand there was the vision of the politically active part of the population, centred around liveability and environmental issues. From the latter viewpoint, the development of activities around the station was essentially seen as a way to pay for the measures to improve liveability.

While public discussion continued, plan-making proceeded, without much interaction between the two processes, within the public-private partnership. A master plan was finally presented in May 1993 (Gemeente Utrecht et al., 1993; Figure 6.4). It was an ambitious plan, envisaging far-reaching intervention in the infrastructure, around 300 000 m2 of offices, 25 000 m2 of shops, and almost 1000 apartments. However, it was also a weak plan. In the first place it was not signed by ABP. Furthermore, support by other partners—NS, the Jaarbeurs—was either partial or passive. In particular, as would emerge later, each of the partners had some fundamental reservations about the plan. ABP was afraid of competition for its indoor shopping centre from the envisaged new shopping developments at street level. NS was not convinced by the financial calculations. And the Jaarbeurs did not see the added value of an active involvement. All three, it must be said, were also in the process of more or less extensive reorganization. This implied that company objectives and approaches had to be redefined before firm commitments could be made. New discussions with local interests followed the publication of the master plan. Among these, the prevailing feeling was that to the injury of being excluded from the real negotiations was added the insult of being consulted only when decisions had already been taken. Objections were answered with rather vague statements such as 'will be researched further', 'will be reconsidered and researched', or 'will be striven for'.

Indeed, the municipality did not appear to be intimidated by local criticism. Rather, it appeared to be more worried by the reservations of the private partners. And it also seemed to be concerned about the queries posed by central government, on which essential funding depended, suggesting that the national authorities were not convinced of the financial

Fig. 6.4 The 1993 UCP master plan; artist impression (Source: Stuurgroep UCP)

feasibility of the project. The picture was made more problematic by the uncertainty emerging on the property markets, especially in the area of office development.

UCP, second round: the development company

In December 1993, all of the above notwithstanding, a framework agreement (raamovereenkomst) for the establishment of a new public-private partnership incorporating the municipality and three of the biggest property development companies in the country (MBO, Mabon Wilma, and Multi-Development Corporation) was presented to and approved by the city council. The local authority would play a leading role, ensuring that public policy objectives would not be subordinated to business objectives. For this reason, it would participate with 51% of the shares (and financing). But in exchange for their willingness to take on part of the risk, market interests would also get certain guarantees. One was a guarantee of direct involvement in plan-making (the important decisions had to be supported by a 75% majority in the partnership). Another was assured priority in the assignment of future development rights (also an incentive to reach the implementation stage).

The agreement reached with the private developers was cited by the city executive as a demonstration of the viability of the initiative. However, some of the most important interests in the area—the railways, the owners of HC and the Jaarbeurs—were not represented. The dialogue with the railways continued, but no formal agreement was yet possible, mainly because of the uncertain implications of the ongoing reorganization of the company. With ABP (the owner of HC), the arrangement was to 'negotiate further on the basis of additional information'. With both NS and ABP, the municipality would establish a 'structural consultation'. In general, it was indeed recognized that informing and consulting with higher administrative levels, citizens, interest groups and others was one of the primary tasks of the development company. It was also recognized that communication with the local population and interest groups had been insufficient in the past, as opposed to regular contacts with private partners, investors, and higher levels of government. A possible solution was to distinguish degrees of partnership (and the 'selective participation' it demanded), especially where the public responsibilities of the municipality were concerned. The city council were to have the first and the last word at every step with relevant policy implications. These intentions were reinforced by the ascendancy, in the spring of 1994, of a new 'solution- and consultation-oriented' city executive. The name of the initiative changed too. It was no longer called the Utrecht City Project but became known as the Utrecht Centrum Project, possibly to avoid reference to a supposed 'Manhattanization' of Utrecht.

The expectation of the development company was that an initial development phase— covering all the steps from research and evaluation to formalization of a development plan in a land-use plan with judicial powers—would take about 15 months. A land-use plan (bestemmingsplan) was thus expected by the spring of 1995. However, the first phase of the work (evaluation and research) was not completed until June 1995, when a spatial-functional concept was published. The document (Ontwikkelingsmaatschappij UCP, 1995; Figure 6.5)—a rather conventional urban design plan—was seen as a basis for consultation with the local population, potential investors, firms located in the area, higher administrative levels, and other interests. It was determined that, after the consultation, the development company and the municipality 'would decide on the further progress of the plan-making'. The expectation was that construction could start in 1996, and that the plan would be completed in 2004. However, it was also recognized that the document had only a draft status, partly 'depending on the measure of the agreement to be reached with third parties'. And this remained a problem, as uncertainties about central government financing and, perhaps more importantly, structural contrasts with the other long-term interests in the area (NS, ABP and Jaarbeurs) were still in the way.

UCP, third round: the administrative platform

Little progress was made over the following months. It became increasingly clear that direct involvement of the three key actors—the railways (NS), the owners of the shopping complex (ABP), and the congress and exhibition centre (Jaarbeurs)—would be unavoidable. At last, communication channels started working again. In February 1996, after a (negative) joint evaluation of the existing spatialfunctional concept, a bestuurlijk platform (administrative platform) was put in place, involving all four key actors. For the first time, it seemed, there was enough awareness of how much each one needed the others to pursue its own objectives. And for the first time, it seemed that those individual objectives had been defined clearly enough to allow substantial negotiations.

The results were indeed striking. After only four months of intense discussions, facilitated by an external process manager and assisted by an urban designer, an oplossingsrichting (solution guideline) was published in June (Figure 6.6). That document analysed some of the fundamental contradictions, and pointed out some possible solutions. In four months, the

Fig. 6.5 The 1995 spatial functional concept; artist's impression. (Source: Ontwikkelingsmaatschappij UCP)

area's potential and problems were (once again) surveyed. The survey was based on interviews with residents, public officers, politicians, and property owners. An agreement was reached on a new spatial functional concept, or 'what the ground plan will look like—which buildings will

Fig. 6.6 Solution guideline: the system of open spaces, integrating station and city (as elaborated in the VSO). (Source: UCP)

be demolished and where new buildings will come' (Nspirit, 1996, p. 19). The development company appeared to have been forgotten. But with a little exaggeration, it can be said that more had been achieved in those four months than in the preceding eight years! The enthusiasm among the four partners was palpable. The general feeling was that the decisive point of no return was about to be reached. Also, other actors, including the local opposition, seemed to share the perception that 'this was the real thing'. They appreciated the declared intention of dealing more openly with subsequent stages. In October, NS-Vastgoed (representing NS and the other public transport companies), the Jaarbeurs, Winkelbeleggingen Nederland (representing ABP, owner of HC) and the municipality signed an intentional agreement. That document laid down the results of the negotiations up to that point and, most

Fig. 6.7 Provisional urban design plan (VSO); artist's impression. (Source: UCP)

importantly, defined the financial approach. In essence, each of the partners was to develop its own areas, and the surpluses were to feed into a common purse to finance—together with central government subsidies—the unprofitable elements.

After further elaborations and consultations, a voorlopig stedebouwkundig ontwerp (VSO, provisional urban design plan) was presented by the administrative platform in February 1997 (Figure 6.7). The fundamental lines of the guideline were maintained, but there were important emphases that led to some resistance and tempered the general enthusiasm. In particular, a stadsboulevard (city boulevard), including a new east-west tunnel and added capacity to radial access roads, was proposed to solve the accessibility-liveability issue (see below). However, local groups and members of the city council contested these accents. They demanded clarification of the impact of what they saw as a new inner ring with access routes through surrounding residential neighbourhoods. Also, the volume of offices and other commercial functions, especially on the west side of the tracks, was considered excessive. Those functions were seen as detrimental to the liveability of the area and a threat to the economic base of the existing city.

The VSO, after consultations and further studies, should lead to (a) a definitive urban design plan (definitief stedebouwkundig ontwerp, DSO) and (b) a legally binding local plan (bestemmingsplan), which would be submitted to formal consultation and then to debate and a vote in the city council. In the summer of 1997, reactions to the VSO were being considered by the administrative platform. That entity would then propose a DSO to the city executive. This should happen by November 1997, so that before the end of the year it could be presented to the city council, which ultimately has to give the green light. The urban design plan could then be translated into a bestemmingsplan, or the point of no return. If the council, as hoped by the four partners, approves the plan by the end of 1997, then construction could start in 1998, and the whole project could be ready by 2008. Table 6.1 summarizes the main phases of the process.

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