The Systematics of the Environment Act

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On 1 January 2024, the new Environment Act came into force. This act will house many of the rules on the ‘physical living environment’. The systematics of the Environment Act can be quite difficult. Things have changed and new case law will emerge. In the coming period, we will follow this case law in the form of blogs, but first we will discuss the systematics of the Environment Act. We start with this blog, in which we address some general points of the Environment Act, being the reason for introducing the Environment Act, the goals of the Environment Act and the scope of the law.

Reason

Before the turn of the year, the rules on physical living environment were scattered among various laws and regulations. These laws and regulations were not designed as a system, but this has developed over the years. This sometimes made joint application of the rules very difficult. Consequently, this was one of the main reasons for the systemic review of environmental law.

Under the Environment Act – this is the idea – a clearer system will be used, making the application of laws and rules easier.

Scope

The core of the new environmental law system is formed by the Environment Act, the Quality of the Living Environment Decree, the Activities in the Living Environment Decree, the Building Works in the Living Environment Decree, the Environment Decree and the Environment Regulation.

Chapter 1 of the Environment Act regulates the scope. For this purpose, two elements are important:

  • the physical living environment; and
  • activities that have or may have an impact on the physical living environment.

 

What exactly can be understood as ‘the physical living environment’ is not fully defined. However, Article 1.2(2) of the Environment Act does contain a number of examples of components that are in any case part of the physical living environment. For instance, the physical living environment includes at least buildings, infrastructure, water systems, water, soil, air, landscapes, nature, cultural heritage and world heritage. The physical living environment thus includes both the natural environment and elements created by humans. Examples include buildings and roads.

The concept of ‘activities that have or may have an impact on the physical living environment’ is also not specified. The only requirement mentioned is that the activity has (potential) adverse effects on the physical living environment.

All in all, the scope is quite broad and not very defined. In practice, these concepts will most likely be further crystallised in case law.

Goals

The environmental law system review has four improvement goals:

  • Improve and speed up decision-making on projects in the physical living environment.
  • Improve the room for administrative deliberation by facilitating an active and flexible approach to achieving goals for the physical living environment.
  • Increase the clarity, predictability and ease of use of environmental law.
  • Achieve a coherent approach to the physical living environment in policy, decision-making and regulation.

 

Because the Environment Act and its regulations are, all in all, quite complex and extensive, the question is whether these goals will be achieved.

In addition, Article 1.3 of the Environment Act mentions social goals:

  • ‘To achieve and maintain a safe and physical living environment and good environmental quality, also because of the intrinsic value of nature;
  • Effectively managing, using and developing societal needs.’

 

Achieving and maintaining a safe and physical living environment and good environmental quality refers to the importance of safeguarding the quality of the physical living environment. s such, this refers specifically to ‘protecting’ the physical living environment. This is because the Environment Act aims, among other things, to protect health and the environment and ensure the safety of the physical environment.

Managing, using and developing the physical environment to fulfil social needs refers to the fact that the physical environment can also be used by people for social tasks. Think of tasks in industry, agriculture or housing. Management, for example, refers to the management of dykes. Use, for instance, involves abstracting water. Developing looks at building structures, for instance. All this has to be done as effectively and efficiently as possible, because the available space for use has to be divided among various social needs.

Conclusion

In short, the systematics of physical environment legislation have changed considerably. The purpose of this change is to facilitate the application of the legislation. However, the question is whether this is actually the case in practice. In the end, the Environment Act has once again become complex. The first signs are that it is not too bad in certain respects, but the manageability of the rules in particular is difficult. There are a huge number of references to other rules, which themselves refer to other rules. It is therefore far from certain that the improvement targets will be met. here is a significant chance that citizens and businesses will lose sight of the forest for the trees and be forced to seek specialised assistance.

How difficult or easy the application of the Environment Act will ultimately be, practice will tell. In subsequent blogs, we will elaborate on developments in case law concerning the Environment Act.

If you are experiencing difficulty in applying the Environment Act or are curious about what the coming into force of the Environment Act means for your plot or your company, please contact Gerard van der Wende, Petra Lindhout or Fleur Huisman.

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De Haij & van der Wende

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Dennis Oud

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Erwin den Hartog

Corporate law, Real estate law
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Fleur Huisman

Environmental law
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Petra Lindthout

Environmental law
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Tessa Sipkema

Employment law, Corporate law
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Gerard van der Wende

Administrative law and Family law
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Elke Hofman-Bijvank

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