Spatial planning to improve the liveability of rural areas: a case from the Netherlands


  • Pieter Jong Wageningen University & Research, Delft University of Technology
  • Leonie van Beek Landscape architect at the municipality of Ede


spatial quality, rural agricultural areas, land use plan, trade-offs, institutional arrangements




Planning for just and sustainable urban regions also calls for attention to the interaction between urban and rural regions. City dwellers will often seek refuge outside the city for leisure and recreation. Even though the focus might be on nature and recreational areas, our agricultural area has a great contribution and potential as well. An area created by the age-old land-use interaction and food supply, landscape management and planning is strongly connected to the urban area in function and appearance.

Rural agricultural areas are currently under pressure in Europe, as shown by farmers' protests in several countries, including France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Changes in European and national policy, ostensibly desired by farmers, are a matter of politics (and thus require a long breath). In the meantime, planners at national, regional and local scales can already start adjusting planning to integrate different functions. Planning that aims at a mix of functions in balance with the social, environmental and spatial quality within the landscape framework has the potential to increase the liveability of the countryside.

The main research question in this paper is: which local legal and policy arrangements - in the context of the planning of the physical environment - can be helpful to enhance the spatial quality (including: liveability and sustainability) in rural areas? In this paper we investigate how the local government can create more opportunities for the rural area by planning. We do this through a literature review and a case study. The literature on 'exchange of development rights' and 'trade-offs in planning' mentions possibilities of flexible planning that can also be applied in rural areas. The case study concerns a project of a municipality in the middle of the Netherlands: the municipality of Ede. It has a territory of about 32,000 hectares, including a large rural area with approximately 1,200 agricultural functions and a large part of nature reserve of the Veluwe (Natura 2000 area). This project enables land use plan changes from agricultural (ancillary) functions to residential, whether or not in combination with small-scale functions (business, social, recreational). Three main (planning) objectives are achieved: the actual situation and the land use plan are brought back into line with each other; (latent) environmental gains are achieved; and by allowing new (economic) uses, the rural area is once again offered a future perspective (increasing quality of life). In addition, spatial quality is an important criterion in this project and a conditional part of each initiative. The case study shows that - in order to be effective - different instruments have to be applied side by side. Besides a flexible land use plan, it is necessary, among other things, to organize a communication process and lower the barriers for citizens (both practical and financial). Therefore, the municipality of Ede made an explicit choice to invite citizens to participate in a new planning regime, rather than coercion. At the end of the paper, we formulate a research agenda with possible questions for follow-up research. For example, one question is how the new Environment and Planning Act might affect planning to promote liveability in rural areas.

Author Biography

  • Pieter Jong, Wageningen University & Research, Delft University of Technology

    In addition to my position at Wageningen University & Research, I also have a part-time position at Delft University of Technology. At both universities, I work as a lecturer and researcher in the field of spatial planning & environmental governance.


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