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Dutch architect more concerned about the effect of nitrogen rules than European colleague

The discussion about nitrogen emissions has dominated the Dutch political and public debate in recent months. At the end of May, the Council of State decided that the Dutch Nitrogen Approach Programme (PAS), which will be used from 2015 onwards, is in conflict with European legislation. The European nitrogen policy is aimed at limiting nitrogen emissions near so-called Natura 2000 areas. The Dutch approach to take measures afterwards to reduce nitrogen emissions is now condemned. From now on, a building permit will only be granted after a positive assessment of the nitrogen emissions or their offsetting. This has major consequences for the Dutch construction sector. The number of construction projects that are at least delayed and, in the worst case, rejected, is estimated at 18,000. The problem is so great that market parties speak of a lock on the construction sector.

Architects on nitrogen emissions

Since 2009, USP has been conducting quarterly surveys among architects from eight European countries. Architects are involved in the first phases of the development and construction process and are therefore one of the first to notice developments in the construction sector and are therefore predictive for the entire construction sector. In the European Architectural Barometer Q3 2019 a number of questions about nitrogen emissions were therefore included in the study and the opinion of architects on the effects of the developments in this area was sounded out. The first results of the study show that Dutch architects in particular predict problems as a result of the nitrogen emission regulation, while architects in other European countries see this less. 

Dutch architects are worried

It is abundantly clear that Dutch architects are significantly more concerned about the impact of the current focus on nitrogen emissions on the construction sector than European colleagues. There are several explanations for why this is such a problem in the Netherlands and much less in other European countries.

In relative terms, the Netherlands has one of the highest nitrogen emissions in Europe. The Netherlands is a small (densely populated) country with over 160 Natura 2000 sites of which 118 are threatened by (too) high nitrogen levels. In addition, the Dutch government applies a strict interpretation of European legislation. European rules stipulate that projects may not have a 'significant' effect on nature, but the definition of 'significant' is not given. The Dutch government's interpretation of these EU regulations is very strict and stricter than, for example, Germany.

The chance that a construction project is close to a threatened Natura 2000 site and that the project will have a significant effect on nature is therefore relatively high in the Netherlands. This results in the large number of projects that now run the risk of being postponed or even cancelled. The great shortage of housing and the great urgency to build is added to this for architects and builders. A large number of Dutch architects, who think that this nitrogen regulation has a major effect on the construction sector, therefore expect this to be a particular problem in the housing sector.

Effect of nitrogen regulation

It remains to be seen how great the impact of nitrogen regulation will actually be on the Dutch construction sector in terms of market volumes. This weekend the next challenge presented itself, namely the discussion about the standard for toxic substances in the soil that builders are allowed to work with (PFAS). Despite the restrictions imposed by all the regulations, the construction sector will be encouraged even more than before to look for solutions that are less harmful to the environment: modular, energy-neutral, circular and nature-inclusive building.

European Architectural Barometer quarter 3 2019

The research of the European Architectural Barometer quarter 3 2019 is currently in process. The report will further examine the developments in the sector and the expectations of architects for the turnover and their orders. Of course, we will continue to closely monitor the nitrogen discussion and other developments. Both in subsequent editions of the European Architectural Barometer and in the semi-annual survey the European Contractor Monitor.