Post-Growth in Dutch Transport Infrastructure Planning: An Exploration of Instruments and Practices within Rijkswaterstaat



Public Infrastructure Providers, The Netherlands, Circularity, Post-Growth Planning, Transport Networks




Public infrastructures are crucial in attempts to achieve a circular economy and especially net-zero targets for resource uses, such as recently strengthened both on the European level and in the Netherlands. Given the sheer volume of emissions and primary materials attributed to public infrastructures, initiatives of public infrastructure providers are important to achieve sustainability targets. However, the discretionary power and the role of such governmental agencies, as well as the instruments and practices within these agencies, have been less recognized for their potential in contributing to a large socio-economic transformation (Durrant et al., 2023). Therefore, the aim of this paper is to contribute to the development of post-growth thinking in the planning of transport infrastructure.

Public infrastructure providers are tasked with the design, implementation, and maintenance of transport networks. In that way, infrastructure providers promote economic growth. We observe, however, that there is a recent interest within such organizations in developing a different perspective on the relationship between transport networks and economic growth. In the Netherlands, Rijkswaterstaat is the executive organization of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, which develops and manages national highways and waterways. The organization is committed to a sustainable living environment and works on the development and implementation of instruments that promote sustainability. Rijkswaterstaat has the organizational target to achieve CO2-neutrality and circularity by 2030. The organization already explores and develops policy guidelines and instruments that allow steering on other indicators than those related to economic growth, such as those developed within the frame of Broad Prosperity (see e.g., Gorter & De Ridder, 2022). Broad prosperity (in Dutch: Brede Welvaart) is defined by Statistics Netherlands as concerning “the quality of life here and now and the extent to which this is at the expense of the broad prosperity of later generations or that of people elsewhere in the world” (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, 2022). Furthermore, some planners start exploring what post-growth and de-growth imply for how Rijkswaterstaat can think differently about the development and management of its transport infrastructure networks (see e.g., Poelma & Witting, 2023). As such, Rijkswaterstaat is engaging in a process of redefining the boundaries of the organization’s mandate. In our view, this is a major and exciting step for what has historically been a technocratic engineering organization that executes policies developed by the Ministry (Van den Brink, 2009).

The starting point of our study is that circularity and net-zero targets are necessary normative goals, as well as that public infrastructure organizations are key actors in developing, setting, and implementing respective policies. We embark on this endeavor with an explorative case study of Rijkswaterstaat. The research questions are as follows: (1) what policy guidelines and instruments exist within Rijkswaterstaat that could enable the development of post-growth planning, and (2) what roles can planners take to promote post-growth planning in Rijkswaterstaat? In the paper, based on policy instruments literature, we will develop a framework to categorize the different types of policy instruments and their potential effects on achieving post-growth planning, the different roles planners can take, and the perceived barriers and enablers for applying the instruments. Our explorative analysis will enable to better grasp the potential role of public infrastructure providers and their planners to contribute more effectively to reaching net-zero targets and become a key actor in a circular post-growth future.

Author Biography

  • Stefan Verweij, University of Groningen

    I am an Assistant Professor of Infrastructure Planning, Governance & Methodology at the University of Groningen (2019—current). I am affiliated with the Department of Spatial Planning and Environment of the Faculty of Spatial Sciences. I am program coordinator of the Bachelor Spatial Planning and Design of the Faculty of Spatial Sciences and of the research program Sustainable Road Infrastructure between Rijkswaterstaat and the University of Groningen. I am also supervisor and co-promotor on multiple PhD research projects. Since 2018, I am editorial board member of Public Works Management & Policy.

    I have a PhD in Public Administration from Erasmus University Rotterdam (2015). Previously, I worked at the University of Groningen as a Postdoctoral Researcher (2016-2019), the University of Bamberg (2015—2016), and at Erasmus University Rotterdam (2009—2015). I also held visiting research positions at Rijkswaterstaat and the Bertelsmann Foundation.

    My research focuses on the design, implementation, and outcomes of collaboration in cross-sector governance networks, with a particular focus on Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in infrastructure planning. I am also specialized in comparative methods, in particular Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA). Current main projects focus on the performance advantage of PPPs, the collaborative advantage of PPPs, and on boundary spanning in infrastructure planning. I have published many articles on these topics, as well as multiple books.


Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek. (2022). Monitor Brede Welvaart & De Sustainable Development Goals 2022. Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek.

Durrant, D., Lamker, C.W., & Rydin, Y. (2023). The potential of post-growth planning: Re-tooling the planning profession for moving beyond growth. Planning Theory & Practice, 24(2), 287–295.

Gorter, Y., & De Ridder, P. (2022). Aan de Slag met Brede Welvaart: Een Verkenning van Hoe Rijkswaterstaat met Bestaande Instrumenten Kan Sturen op Brede Welvaart. Rijkswaterstaat.

Poelma, T., & Witting, G. (2023). Een Verkenning naar Economische Paradigma’s en de Betekenis voor Mobiliteitsbeleid. Colloquium Vervoersplanologisch Speurwerk, Brussel.

Van den Brink, M. (2009). Rijkswaterstaat on the Horns of a Dilemma. Uitgeverij Eburon.