Participation under the Environment Act

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A few months ago, a blog was devoted to the participation procedure under the laws and regulations that applied until 1 January 2024. Under this system of law, there was an obligation of effort, but (all) wishes of local residents did not have to be met. This blog will discuss participation under the Environment Act.

First, a brief recap of the concept of participation. Participation means that the government or initiators who want to realise something in the physical environment must actively involve citizens, businesses, civil society organisations and administrative bodies in the preparation of the project. In this way, the parties involved in the participation can share their wishes and concerns already in the preparation phase, so that the initiator or the government can possibly take them into account.

Participation by public authorities

The participation procedure for project decisions differs from the participation procedure described in the Environment Decree. Therefore, this blog does not cover project decision participation. In short, project decisions are used for complex projects with a public interest, such as building a motorway or reinforcing a primary flood defence system.

For public authorities and initiators, regulations regarding participation are spread across the Environment Decree, the Environment Act and the Environment Regulation.  The Omgevingsbesluit stipulates that, when preparing the omgevingsplan, regulations, omgevingsvisies and programmes, governments must indicate “how citizens, businesses, civil society organisations and administrative bodies have been involved in the preparation and what the results are. In addition, (decentralised) authorities must indicate how they have included applicable participation policies in the participation procedure.

As you may already notice, governments are only obliged to carry out participation. However, they are not obliged to implement the results of the participation procedure in such a way that all wishes expressed during this procedure are actually realised in the environmental plan, regulations, environmental visions and programmes. Thus, there is no so-called obligation of result, but there is an obligation of justification. Governments must indicate how they have included citizens, businesses, civil society organisations and administrative bodies in the preparations and what the results are.

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Fleur Huisman

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