The Dutch government’s chief architect has said that hundreds of thousands of new homes can be built in Dutch towns and cities by boosting the density of developments, rather than expanding into green belt land.
Francesco Veenstra told the Telegraaf in an interview that many urban areas still have land available and that developing brownfield sites will ‘also improve the living environment, and keep the local baker and butcher in business’.
The Dutch government has set a target of building one million new homes by 2030 and many of them will be built in large new residential developments outside city centres.
‘Of course you also have to build new neighbourhoods, but you can also build and renovate in existing urban environments,’ Veenstra told the paper. The architect will have a key role in advising housing minister Hugo de Jonge as he puts his plans into action.
One reason for the current shortage of homes is the fact that households are shrinking, even though the population is expanding. ‘At the beginning of the last century the average household was made up of five people and at the moment it is 2.1,’ Veenstra points out. ‘This means that more than twice as many homes are needed for the same number of people and this is a problem that will only get worse.’
The 2008 financial crisis was another problem because many building firms went bust at that time and the construction of new residential property almost halved. Today, the shortage of workers is a major issue, and the government has said prefabrication is likely to have a role in solving the current crisis.
Veenstra said he is hopeful that the building process can be made faster. ‘But we need to act on a wide front,’ he said. ‘We need to produce many different types of homes, using quality prefabrication and good craftsmen. We must also repurpose existing real estate such as office buildings, old school buildings and factories.’
The government advisor also warned about repeating the problems of earlier mass residential building programmes, in which the infrastructure was dealt with as an afterthought. ‘I believe in densification of city districts,’ he said. ‘Over the past fifteen years, we have been able to realize a quarter of a million homes without impacting on green areas. It is a process that we must continue, because there is still a lot of space in our cities and towns.’
The Netherlands, he said, is still far from full. ‘There is plenty of room, but it is just in different places to where people are looking now,’ he said. The border region around Delfzijl in Groningen and Maastricht or Vlissingen have plenty of opportunity for development, as long as the jobs and the transport infrastructure is there, Veenstra said.
‘If we make plans to build outside the main urban conurbations, we will have to make sure there are jobs,’ he said. ‘And we might also have to travel a little longer between home and work.’