The substantive impact of a procedural rule: the case of the Dutch ‘ladder’ for sustainable urbanization

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Since the dawn of the new millennium, the Netherlands, world famous for its protected Green Heart, growth centers, main ports and prohibition of out-of-town shopping malls, has been busy dismantling its national planning (Zonneveld and Evers 2014). In 2012, it opted to decentralize, deregulate and replace all remaining national urbanization policies with a single procedural rule called the ladder for sustainable urbanization. The ‘ladder’ owes its name to the three steps that local zoning plans must consider when granting rights for new urban development (see text box below). In short, they must argue that (1) a regional need exists, (2) explain the siting within the urban fabric and, if out-of-town, (3) consider multimodal accessibility. This substantiation should be included in the plan’s explanatory notes. Like many regulatory instruments, the ladder is a procedural rule aiming to achieve substantive ends, in this case, reining in the overproduction of housing and commercial property on car-dependent greenfield sites which had characterized post-2000 urban development in the Netherlands (Janssen-Jansen and Mulders 2012). One could easily be forgiven for not believing that a requirement to explain planning decisions in non-binding explanatory notes would overcome the powerful economic logic of land development. Indeed, an initial evaluation found the application of this rule in local plans to be clearly inadequate (Evers 2015a). Even so, the ladder – and more particularly its enforcement through the court system – has since been blamed for hampering development and in the summer of 2017, less than five years after it entered into force, it was relaxed
Book of proceedings: Annual AESOP Congress, Spaces of Dialog for Places of Dignity, Lisbon, 11-14th July, 2017
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