Perhaps surprisingly, Newman and Thornley (1996, pp. 27-76) categorize the Dutch planning system as belonging to the Napoleonic family. The basis of the system, from which the characterization is derived, is formed by its broad legal context, which consists of a Napoleonic code and a written constitution. In the Netherlands, there are three levels of government: the national government, provinces (12), and municipalities (572 in 1997). Each level of government has clearly circumscribed legislative and administrative powers. Within those bounds, it is autonomous as long as it does not conflict with the interests of higher authorities. The national government provides a framework (in the Physical Planning Act of 1965) prescribing the procedures for the physical plans of the other levels of government. Additionally, national spatial policy is formulated in Reports on Physical Planning (regularly revised), which run through a special legal procedure, the so-called National Physical Planning Key Decision. The Reports on Physical Planning are meant to coordinate sectoral policies and provide provinces and municipalities with guidelines for their physical plans.
Provinces provide a regional plan (streekplan), which is an administrative guideline for municipal plans. Municipalities, for their part, develop two kinds of physical plan: a structure plan (structuurplan) and a land-use plan (bestemmingsplan). The latter is legally binding for individuals as well as for other parties (including governments). Citizens can oppose any planning proposal at each level of government. Furthermore, developers have to apply for a building permit (which municipalities have to grant if it is in accordance with the land-use plan). Objections can also be raised with regard to building permits (ISOCARP, 1992, pp. 146153). Compared with other countries, where the implementation of a physical plan is concerned municipalities in the Netherlands are richly equipped. Not only can they make use of public instruments such as compulsory purchase, but they are also actively engaged in the land market (see below).
The Dutch territory is covered with physical plans. These provide a high degree of certainty for developers as well as for citizens. Considering the density of plans, it is not surprising that one of the main points of discussion remains a perceived lack of flexibility (Needham et al., 1993). Furthermore, a distinctive feature of the Dutch planning system is that municipalities have a very active land policy. A government hand in acquiring, servicing and selling land is common practice in most Dutch municipalities (Spit, 1995). This deeply affects the relationships between developers and governments. Of the three levels of government, the local level is by far the most important.
The emphasis in physical planning is on the local level. But, as far as the larger infrastructure projects are concerned, financing and planning is mainly the task of the national government. At the same time, private investors are becoming increasingly involved. The increasing reliance on private funding leads to complex situations when it is part of a wider process of change. Specifically, the complexity arises when private finance is combined with a decentralization tendency in physical planning and a centralization trend in the financing and planning of large infrastructure projects. And this is generally the case with railway station area redevelopment.
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