From combating to managing: Demographic decline in the Netherlands - Policy strategies for current and future shrinking regions

24-10-2012 | Publication

From 2010 onwards, population and household numbers are projected to decrease rapidly in an increasing number of municipalities and regions in the Netherlands. There will also be a rapid decrease in the size of the potential labour force due to the decrease in the number of young people and the ageing of the population. This demographic decline will not only take place in the municipalities of Parkstad Limburg, Eemsdelta and Zeeuws-Vlaanderen – the three regions already experiencing population decline – but will also affect a great many other municipalities and regions elsewhere in the Netherlands.

This publication is the English translation of the Summary and Findings of the full Dutch report ‘Van bestrijden naar begeleiden: demografische krimp in Nederland’.

In 2010, the Dutch Government identified ‘anticipating regions’ – regions that may be faced with shrinkage. Municipalities in the shrinking and anticipating regions need to prepare for the possible effects of demographic decline, not only on their housing market policies, but also on policies relating to the regional economy, retail trade, business locations and the labour market. Experiences in current shrinking regions show that there is little use trying to combat demographic decline, and that a policy shift from combating shrinkage to managing, shrinkage can be a difficult process.

Anticipating demographic decline in time can prevent or limit the problems associated with shrinkage. Municipalities need to work together at the regional level to ensure that they do not compete for the same residents and businesses. This also helps prevent unprofitable spatial investments, financial problems and unoccupied homes and offices. The provinces and national government can encourage municipalities in shrinking and anticipating regions to anticipate demographic decline both in their housing policy and their economic policy. They can also support the municipalities in their search for new coalitions, in developing financial resources and in exploring the possibilities provided by existing regulations to implement strategies that focus on anticipating and managing shrinkage. However, demographic decline will also force national government and the provinces to assess their own policy.

Despite the current focus on shrinkage, spatial, economic and housing market policies at these higher administrative levels still focus too strongly on stimulating and enabling growth.