The Netherlands in 2040: A country of regions - Spatial Outlook 2011

For many years spatial and transport planning has been a process of guiding and directing growth. Population, housing stock, jobs and kilometres travelled more or less continuously increased for almost as long as we can remember. The question was not if there would be growth but how much growth there would be.

This publication is the English translation of the Summary and Findings of the full Dutch report ‘Nederland in 2040: een land van regio’s - Ruimtelijke Verkenning 2011’.

The PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency recently executed an outlook study investigating possible futures for living, working and transport in the Netherlands, looking towards the year 2040. The study looks at living, working, mobility and accessibility, answering three questions: What is the main direction of developments per region? How robust is this trend? And how wide is the range between the various, possible developments? The study incorporates three scenarios of the future. The first is a business-as-usual scenario; extrapolating recent trends into the future to describe a ‘surprise-free’ future. The other two are a high and a low scenario, based on two extreme scenarios taken from a previous PBL study that was conducted together with CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis. All three scenarios assume unchanged policies with regard to planning and transport. In addition, different sets of policy measures were investigated: (1) a much more liberal spatial planning policy with fewer spatial restrictions on housing development; (2) no new investments in infrastructure from 2020 onwards; and (3) no new investments in infrastructure from 2030 onwards. For each scenario, we analysed developments with respect to population, households, employment, mobility, the match between jobs and workers, and accessibility (jobs within reach).

From this study we concluded that growth should no longer be taken for granted, in many parts of the country. However, this does not mean that decline is already on our doorstep, either. In some regions it is, but for most of the country the future is much more diffuse. Planning will have to deal with a broad spectrum of developments. We also found that changing the dominant way of thinking in urban planning can have great consequences regarding the spatial patterns in our country and the resulting mobility patterns. Furthermore, the study presents conclusions on the different infrastructural strategies. These insights into possible future development paths are relevant for policy. Continuing as we always have, with policies grafted on growth and expansion, may have severely negative effects; disinvestments in infrastructure and the built environment and decline in existing urban areas. Although this is only a possibility and not a certainty, as the uncertainty regarding the future is great. This, in turn, justifies a new planning approach: planning for uncertainty.


Hans Hilbers, Daniëlle Snellen (corresponding authors), Femke Daalhuizen, Andries de Jong, Jan Ritsema van Eck, Barry Zondag


Publication title
The Netherlands in 2040: A country of regions - Spatial Outlook 2011
Publication date
1 November 2012
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