The Netherlands is under constant development. For the last few decades, there has only been one specially designated exception. We always assumed that the centrally located Markermeer would at some point be made into a polder area (the Markerwaard) and, as long as this future designation applied, we treated it very pragmatically. The turning point came with publication of the Spatial Planning Policy Document, which stipulated that the Markermeer should no longer be considered a national buffer for land reclamation.
Amsterdam metropolitan area
With the Markermeer and the IJmeer, the Amsterdam metropolitan area has access to a conservation and recreation area on its doorstep of nearly 80,000 hectares. The extensive open waters and the varied coastline possess unique qualities, especially given their urban surroundings. The value of this area for nature is beyond question. The lakes are a key link in the international routes of migratory birds. The presence of many thousands of birds is one of the reasons why this area enjoys protection at a European level. But nature is under pressure. It is not obvious at first sight, but nature has declined significantly in this area since the eighties. Bird numbers have fallen. The question is whether and how this decline can be reversed.
At the same time, the Amsterdam Metropolitan area is very dynamic. Almere is set to double in size by 2030 to 350,000, Amsterdam and environs continue to grow and Utrecht is about to launch into a new phase of expansion. There will soon be more than 1.5 million people living around the two lakes. All these extra residents mean growing demand for infrastructure, jobs and recreational facilities. This urban development places huge demands on the surroundings. The landscape is a key distinguishing feature of the Noordvleugel, a metropolitan region that, in contrast to most other European metropolitan areas, consists of a network of cities instead of one large continuous urban area. The Markermeer and IJmeer could contribute significantly to this trump card, boosting this area’s international competitiveness. The potential is there, but it must be exploited wisely. And this requires proactive, development-oriented policies. One aspect of this involves a renewed legal approach to conservation projects that goes beyond the current fashion of environmental compensation.