Rules and Regulations
We are planning to make this site a repository of ideas and experiences that can be used by others. The incentive for setting up a site that consolidates the ideas and experiences is our very own Growing Green Cities Greenhouse. This project went unexpectedly smooth as there are incredible ideas to be found all over the internet. At some point however, the project hit a snag; Permits had to be requested. In this article I would like to give a detailed account on how important it is for builders to check into the rules and regulations as the very first thing they do.
I live in the Dutch city of Almere. This city has a slogan ‘Het Kan in Almere’ (in Almere it can be done). The city demographics are somewhat interesting. Almere is Geographically located on the east of Amsterdam, the Dutch capital. It could be considered a suburb as many of its residents commute back and forth to Amsterdam every day. Homes in Almere are far less expensive than homes in Amsterdam. This has caused many people originally from Amsterdam to move to Almere. The Netherlands regained the land Almere is built on from the sea. With much of this land being used for agriculture, the city also has a large influx of agricultural residents.
Almere also claims to be a ‘green city’. This immediately raises the question ‘What is a green city?’. The ‘green’ label more and more often gets used in order to indicate a sustainable meaning vs. the actual color. A city can be turned green fairly easily through having lots of grass and trees in it. While, no doubt, this is a very valuable thing to do and a pleasure to live in, I’m not so certain that it also contributes to sustainability.
So here it becomes important what the definition of a ‘green city’ is. As we move forward with this site we will try and get some consensus from our readers on this. As designers of the Growing Green Cities Greenhouse, 3DN was under the impression that a ‘green city’ is a city where its residents excel in caring for the environment. The Earth Day Network appears to have a similar view.
The Growing Green Cities Greenhouse
The growing green cities greenhouse is an initiative with the goal to enable urban residents to economize on reusable resources. It aims to help families to:
- Decrease their trash volume by 80%
- Lower their drinking water usage by 50%
- Lower their groceries expenses by 50%
- Lower their energy usage by 30%
The growing green cities greenhouse uses all sorts of advanced technology for that which we won’t detail in this article.
Almere being a ‘green city’, combined with the stated goals of the Growing Green Cities Greenhouse, it almost seemed like a natural match to develop this project in Almere. It can easily be seen that the stated goals of the Growing Green Cities Greenhouse will make a positive impact on the environment. This holds true even more if multiple such greenhouse are built. This is why we did contact the authorities in advance about our plans but always anticipated an open mind on behalf of the city authorities.
Right or wrong, that anticipation caused us to be slow on the uptake regarding the permits required for the greenhouse. This eventually resulted in having what is called an ‘illegal structure’ in our backyard. There are many reasons I could detail in this article for that to happen, however that’s mostly outside the scope of this article.
The Dutch legislator has recognized in the past that getting all the permits required for building a structure in your backyard had become overly complicated. They consolidated this process in a one-stop permit called the ‘omgevingsvergunning’. This is a permit that includes permits for building, environment and spatial planning. To Dutch citizens it appears relatively easy to get this permit through the Omgevingsloket. It only appears relatively easy. The legislation surrounding it is still very complicated and the rules are unclear and limiting.
The Dutch environmental permit is regulated in the ‘General Provisions Environmental Law‘ (WABO). A law is a rule that’s enforced through social institutions to govern behaviour. One would think that such laws apply equally to all citizens in a country. Our experiences seem to indicate otherwise.
The omgevingsloket is presented as a one-stop place to get a permit and through that, abide by the law. There is however a fairly big problem with this perception. The law seems to be made location specific through allowing cities to have their own spatial planning. This spatial planning determines the numbers you specify on the permit request.
Here’s a practical example. On the permit request one has to specify the size in square meters of the backyard. This size determines very strongly how big the structure you intend to build may be. The size in square meters of the backyard however depends on how your city has created its spatial planning! So through having a more-, or less, stringent spatial plan, the city planners can actually influence the law.