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Spatial planning in a densely populated country, a Gordian Knot

Spatial planning - certainly in a densely populated country like ours - is all about making choices. It takes a great deal of creativity to get all stakeholders on the same page. Pieter Kraaijeveld, Interim Manager at Boer & Croon, helps policymakers look at things through business-economic glasses in order to arrive at a long-term solution.

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Pieter Kraaijeveld has been active as an interim manager for Boer & Croon since early 2020. Via Ine Frings, partner at Boer & Croon, this cooperation has led to several assignments, including as Director of Spatial Planning and Sustainability at the Municipality of Amsterdam. He helps public-private organisations by finding solutions from the perspective of business economics. We spoke with him about the public domain and spatial planning.

Much has already been written and researched about the similarities and differences between the public and private sectors. What is your take on these two sectors?

"In the private sector, management takes decisions based on more quantitative data such as turnover, profit and making sure more money comes in than what is spent. In the public sector, this applies to a lesser extent; the policy pursued there is much less dependent on achieving certain percentages or EBITDA. You have to acquire a feel for this and that makes it on the one hand especially intangible. While on the other hand, it is actually quite interesting. You have to look for the common denominator on the basis of feelings and sensitivity, and try to translate that into good policy."

"Another difference is that a lot more steering is done invisibly in the public sector. In a company, you steer based on reputation, the brand or the product. And with the shareholders as important stakeholders. In a municipality, but also in semi-public companies like Schiphol Airport and ProRail, your reputation is determined by a diffuse group of stakeholders: local residents, local and national politicians, the media and users. Interaction is consequently markedly less tangible. In addition, you have to continually account for what you do, which means you don't get away with making any mistakes. Just look at the fact that public organisations are subject to the Dutch Public Access to Government Information Act (WOB). If you are very keen on being in control, you should not work in the public sector. You need an internal compass whereby you can take all stakeholders with you and then set your own course as an organisation."

"During my time at ProRail, all KPIs were on green. ProRail's performance consistently kept the Netherlands in the world's top three rail countries alongside Japan and Switzerland. But the whole world still thought we did shoddy work. Then somewhere you are making a serious mistake. Because apparently everything is set on red. Then we asked the question: what if everything that is being said about ProRail is true? If you take that as your starting point, you look at the issue differently and you can work on finding a solution."

Let's talk about spatial planning. As part of your role at Schiphol Airport, ProRail and the municipality of Amsterdam, you have been involved with spatial planning in a unique way. How do you view spatial planning, are we setting the right priorities?
"When people think of spatial planning, they tend to think mainly about housing. But you actually have to look at it much more broadly when you start making policies. Because housing construction affects the quality of life, which entails other aspects. For example, freeing up space for more nature in the city, also with an eye on biodiversity. And you have to take into account changing circumstances due to climate change. This does not get the attention it deserves, while it is an important aspect where the quality of life is concerned. In addition, you also have related issues such as mobility, goods and food transport and gentrification (the renewal and renovation of old, dilapidated buildings in a city). You also see the good and not so good sides to this. In Amsterdam North, for instance, you can see that despite the diverse composition of the residents, certain groups still live next to each other like water and oil. This means that if you put certain groups together, they will not automatically integrate. Another factor is that the municipality's attention to neighbourhoods should be divided evenly, which does not always work, meaning that one neighbourhood can make more progress than another."

"Since the outbreak of Corona, I find public transport an especially interesting subject. What will the needs for public transport be over the next 20 years? I hope that we are not going to approach it in the same way that we have done for the past ten or twenty years. Corona has shown us that public transport can be used in a more evenly spread way, while a lot of capacity is geared towards peak times. That makes it expensive. Try to look at intelligent forms of mixing. Road pricing and electric bikes, for instance, are very interesting to me."

"Spatial planning is a broad concept. Look at the shortages on the housing market, for example, and the increasing unattainability of buying a home. Try using fiscal interventions, for example, to remove the imbalance in that market. It is also interesting how care for the elderly is being shaped."

"If you look at the relationship between elderly care and housing: in the Netherlands, a large group of people live in homes they have paid off, while the children have left home. So what is needed to encourage this group to live in smaller homes? What types of housing do these people want? We used to have courtyards, where you could live with people from the same generation and still have privacy. It calls for a lot of creativity, but we really have to solve it together."

You mentioned a number of issues that frequently need to be managed centrally. Municipalities can introduce their own policies, but that doesn't eliminate the problem on a larger scale. In that light, what is your view of the Environment Act and the central managerial role that is needed in certain dossiers?

"I find that a difficult question. "The intent of the law is good. Whether the law is being applied in the right way is not yet entirely clear to me, but perhaps that is the reason why it is faltering. Still, the idea that you are facilitating and providing a service as part of a public duty, rather than correcting and enforcing, is something I find relevant."

"It is also about participation. Participation is in danger of not succeeding because the various parties involved have different expectations, which inevitably leads to disappointment. Then it becomes participation for participation's sake, then it is just for show. The expectations of citizens change, and as such, it is important that municipalities move with them. And be clear about the frameworks in which participation can take place. Within the municipality of Amsterdam it is a matter of public good. With every rubbish container that is installed, citizens have a right to be consulted."

"I can imagine that the government will take more control particularly regarding land and land development. Perhaps also when it comes to stimulating certain developments within spatial planning, because you do not want that to happen too dispersed. Then you need money and a legal position. These are the prerequisites. And substantive knowledge to make the right interventions. For example, like the old Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (VROM) used to function, but then from the perspective of contemporary issues such as climate, ageing, mobility, care, housing, electrification, digitalisation, biodiversity, etc. We do want to make good use of the space that our country offers. Then comes the question: which industry? Which housing construction? What do you do about agriculture? What to do you about nature? You can manage that centrally and arrange the implementation locally."
Pieter Kraaijveld
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Pieter Kraaijveld

After studying business economics in Rotterdam, Pieter Kraaijeveld worked at Schiphol for eight years. Here, amongst other things, he was co-responsible as director of commercial network development for the growth of Schiphol as an international hub. After this, he worked for several years as an independent international consultant in the public-private sector. His duties included helping public-private organisations to think more in terms of business economics.

In early 2005, Pieter was asked to become strategic director of ProRail, an organisation that at that time had just been established as a result of the merger of three Railinfratrust subsidiaries. His task was to integrate the three subsidiaries and to subsequently strengthen the existing processes. After nine years at ProRail and a brief year as operations director at Arriva, Pieter now works on an assignment basis for a variety of clients in the public & private sector. For instance, over the past period he has undertaken assignments for the municipality of Amsterdam, AEB Amsterdam, Westpoort Warmte and Vattenfall via Boer & Croon.