News - September 28, 2017

Ring road going nowhere yet

After years of wavering, Wageningen municipality has taken a decision about a ring road around the campus. But Gelderland provincial council is not satisfied with the plan and is likely to take over the reins. Which doesn’t mean the road will get built any time soon. Here’s the current state of play.

Provincial plans provide for a ring road between Noordwest neighbourhood (left) and the campus (right), running through the Dassenbos. The photo was taken from the Dijkgraaf block of student flats. Photo Guy Ackermans.

Why does the Gelderland provincial executive (GS) want to take control?
This move was prompted by the municipal council’s latest decision. Just before the summer the council rejected a ring road that went through the small wood called the Dassenbos and past Noordwest neighbourhood. The council opted for an alternative route they came up with themselves, further away from Noordwest and east of the Dassenbos. By doing so they thrust aside years of consultation with all stakeholders, including the province. And that did not go down well with GS. The executive does not think the proposed option is viable because the landowner, WUR, has serious objections. That’s why GS suggested to the provincial council that they should take over the reins on the accessibility dossier (see inset).

What would it mean if the province took control?
The province can override municipalities’ spatial planning. This is done by means of a provincial land use plan called an integration plan. This pushes the municipality out of the policymaking process. It is only allowed if there are clearly interests at stake beyond the local level. According to GS, the future accessibility of Wageningen – and Wageningen Campus in particular – is important enough to justify provincial intervention.

What will happen next?
GS wants a ring road that affects the campus as little as possible. Their starting point is then the route to the west of the Dassenbos, or straight through it, which was shot down by Wageningen council. But a decision in favour of this route is not a foregone conclusion. An environmental impact assessment will be carried out first, to identify how this road would affect the area. As a gesture to the municipality, the Wageningen council’s variant will be considered too. GS wants to look for the best route for the road in a ‘broad zone around the edges of the campus’ (see map).

Why is there opposition to a ring road?
The residents of Noordwest are opposed to a road running so close to their neighbourhood; it will affect the openness and peace of the surroundings. Nature organizations are against anything that will affect the Binnenveld and the Dassenbos. They are also afraid that the campus bypass is just a prelude to a bigger ring road around the whole of Noordwest. Some of the opponents think more asphalt won’t solve the problem. They think less far-reaching measures would also help to relieve the pressure, and support an approach that reduces car use. And some of the opponents reckon Wageningen doesn’t even have an accessibility problem.

Won’t a ring road attract additional through traffic?
The route along the Mansholtlaan, the Diedenweg and the N225 is a shortcut for traffic between the A12 and the A50. A number plate survey in May revealed that nine percent of the daily traffic on the Mansholtlaan is through traffic. That percentage doubles when there is a traffic jam on the A12 in the direction of Arnhem. Opponents see this as an argument against a ring road, because that would attract even more drivers looking for a shortcut. There is something in that argument, although any improvement to traffic flow tends to create shortcuts. To prevent this, the Wageningen council wants signs on the motorways telling drivers that the alternative route is hardly any faster. In off-peak hours it takes 14 minutes to go between the A12 and the A50, but in the rush hour it can take up to 40 minutes.

How special is the Dassenbos?
The Dassenbos is an old patch of plantation woodland that began to feature on maps almost three centuries ago. According to opponents of the ring road, it is of unique natural and cultural value. For supporters of the ring road it is just a rather inaccessible brushwood thicket. WUR makes limited use of the oak and birch thicket for research and education. An environmental impact assessment should determine the true value of the Dassenbos, and how much of that will be left if a road runs through or past it.

The provincial council of Gelderland wants to build a road through the grey zone, but will also consider the options in the orange zone, in line with the wishes of Wageningen municipal council.
The provincial council of Gelderland wants to build a road through the grey zone, but will also consider the options in the orange zone, in line with the wishes of Wageningen municipal council.

What does WUR want?
WUR wants to collaborate on a ring road, as long as it doesn’t overly affect the development of the campus. A road running east of the Dassenbos is therefore ruled out by the Executive Board. That would mean demolishing the Carus stables. A road there would also mean losing trial fields and conflicts with plans for new teaching accommodation opposite Rikilt, where the StartHub is now.

Does the province have a free hand now?
No. An integration plan comes with the same opportunities for participation, lodging objections and appealing as a municipal land use plan. The difference is that at the end of the day, it is not the municipality but the provincial council which makes the decision. The executive has already said it will consult the Wageningen interest groups which were involved in previous planning rounds. This pretty much means the whole circus will start up again.

So is it now certain there will be a ring road?
Not entirely. Three of the four coalition parties in the province, VVD, CDA and PvdA, are in favour of a ring road. For the fourth, D66, the usefulness and necessity of such a road is not so obvious. And a lot depends on the outcome of the environmental income assessment. What is more, local interest groups and nature organizations are more than likely to exhaust all the legal options for blocking or delaying the arrival of the ring road.