Nitrogen crisis continues: solution for housing construction insufficient

That is what Bouwend Nederland says. A new law was supposed to speed up new construction this year, but has failed to do so sufficiently, the sector organization concludes.

Architect Kees Draisma knows all about it. When he applied for a permit for the construction of two zero-emission homes in Zandvoort at the end of 2018, he ‘really did not expect’ that it would cause so much hassle and take such a long time before it would be granted.

Natura 2000 area

The houses are being built opposite the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen, a protected Natura 2000 area, so Draisma had to deal with strict requirements with regard to nitrogen.

“We had to make all kinds of calculations about the nitrogen emitted by trucks that transport materials and construction workers who come to the construction site with their vans. That was quite a list. If that traffic were to cause the precipitation of nitrogen on the nearby nature reserve, then that had to be compensated elsewhere.”

Precisely to avoid this puzzling and red tape, the cabinet introduced the Nitrogen Reduction and Nature Improvement Act with an exemption for construction, demolition and one-off construction activities. Nitrogen precipitation during the construction phase no longer played a role, according to the cabinet.

“In the case of construction, demolition and one-off construction, it is clear that this is always a temporary activity,” the cabinet said when the law was introduced.

Different when using

That is of course different if the structure is used, if people start living in houses or drive on roads, the cabinet acknowledged. The possible precipitation of nitrogen on nature reserves still plays a role for this so-called ‘use phase’. And Draisma noticed that too.

Because even though the two homes to be built in Zandvoort are emission-free, they will still be used. So the architect and developer started looking for compensation for the use phase of the houses. “We had to be creative. We tried to include in the purchase contract that buyers were only allowed to drive electrically, but that may have been a problem again when the homes were sold in advance.”

Good example

Director Fries Hienis of Bouwend Nederland calls it ‘a terribly good example’ of what the construction sector is still dealing with. “It is exemplary for the problems we encounter. Not only with small-scale projects close to nature reserves, but also with larger ones, and throughout the country.”

According to Hienis, the exemption during the construction phase provides a small part of the solution to the problem.

It was also examined whether the roofs of a nearby rehabilitation center could be fitted with solar collectors. “But the center wanted to keep that option on hand for a possible expansion of its own. I even calculated how much compensation space the shooting of 1500 fallow deer in the area would provide, but people laughed about that quite scornfully.”

The most feasible and obvious one turned out to be the proposal to ‘take the gas off’ a neighboring house.

Less than planned

Letters and reports that outgoing Minister Kajsa Ollongren of the Interior has sent to the House, show that there are enough plans to build houses. But in the period up to 2025, no more than 55 percent of the planned houses will be built. After that, the construction pace could increase.

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