Science - September 29, 2011

‘The provinces are more ambitious than Bleker'

Secretary of State Henk Bleker and the Netherlands' provincial councils have reached an agreement on the implementation of the nature policy. ‘It is a complicated agreement in which both parties are buying time', says Froukje Boonstra of Alterra.

‘Last year the cabinet decided to cut 600 million euros from provincial spending on the Ecological Main Structure (EHS). The provinces had to suspend all spending on nature, decided secretary of state Bleker. And that brought the implementation of the nature policy to a standstill. Through the agreement now reached, once the 600 million has been deducted, the provinces can start spending on nature management again until the end of 2014. So Bleker has his way and the cuts go ahead.
The EHS will now shrink to an area 100,000 hectares smaller than originally planned; there will be about 600,000 hectares left for nature. The provinces still need to buy up and landscape land in order to create this smaller EHS. They want to fund the purchase of these areas by selling or exchanging land outside the EHS. Bleker is allowing that now. What is more, the EHS only has to be finished in 2021, which is a gain for the provinces. What Bleker really wants is to decentralise nature policy to the provinces. They have more ambition, so nature is in good hands with them. The question is, however, whether they have the funding to pay for the EHS. But complete decentralisation of nature policy is an illusion, because the state is still responsible for implementing European regulations. So Bleker and the provinces cannot get away from each other. Tough luck for Bleker - he hasn't got them off his back yet. But he has managed to limit his responsibility in the agreement. For example, the state is no longer responsible for the national parks, national landscapes and wildlife corridors. No agreements have been made over what the provinces will do for these areas. So they could end up falling between two stools.'

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