MVRDV - Why the Netherlands should build a new province in the North Sea – and how to do it

Why the Netherlands should build a new province in the North Sea – and how to do it


By MVRDV NEXT and Jan Knikker

In the Netherlands, agriculture has a huge hunger for space, taking up two-thirds of the country’s land. In order for agriculture to become more sustainable, even more land is needed. Where can this land be created?

If there is really no place left in the Netherlands for agriculture, let’s build a new province off the coast. Create 100,000 hectares of new Netherlands for sustainable agriculture and combine it with nature and recreation, increasing the available land and preventing further fragmentation of the country’s existing landscape.

Former minister (and farmer) Cees Veerman recently sounded the alarm in de Volkskrant about the battle for space between housing, solar farms, and nature:

“We need to agree on new values for the country. Agriculture, nature, biodiversity, everything must be given its fair place in a system that is sustainable. Because what we have now is not sustainable.”

Earlier this year, Sjaak van der Tak, chairman of the Agriculture and Horticulture Organisation (LTO), already suggested in Het Parool to explore the North Sea as a potential space for expansion:

“There are plans to build one million houses in this country by 2030 to alleviate the housing shortage. So-called infill – building within cities themselves – is an important first step. But our fear is that this will not be enough, and that too much agricultural land will be sacrificed. We must therefore think and act more ambitiously. Hence the plan for reclaiming land at sea.”

We think there could indeed be possibilities in the North Sea. But where should this new province be located? The North Sea is not exactly empty: there are five protected Natura 2000 areas, fishing grounds, international shipping routes, and existing infrastructure, all of which need to be taken into account. In addition, there are the wind turbines that, depending on political decisions, could cover some 6,600 km2 by 2030 – amounting to 12 percent of the Dutch part of the North Sea. If you do a little maths, however, you will see that there is plenty of space left to make land: there is a capacity of 3,394,545 hectares. That is an area almost as large as the existing land of the Netherlands:

A new coastal province of about 100,000 hectares therefore fits in easily. That would provide space for 4,000 sustainable farms, each with 25 hectares of land at its disposal. The new polder could also become an experimental island for the water and energy sectors, or a trading post where ships dock. For those who fear visual pollution on the horizon, the island can be constructed in such a way that it is not visible from the coast; due to the curvature of the earth, it falls just out of sight. The LTO leader's idea (which is not entirely new; in 2007 CDA politician Joop Atsma also advocated new land off the coast) thus deserves serious consideration.

An island like this could provide some breathing space for the existing Netherlands. We could put an end to the cluttering of the landscape, which is increasingly dominated by industrial estates, ring roads, and distribution and data centres. By concentrating agriculture in the new polder, we can make room in the current Netherlands for the 1 to 2 million homes we need, for new parks, and for more nature. It would be a way of taking responsibility and, after the Afsluitdijk and the land reclamations elsewhere, could be an impressive new calling card for our country.

As Cees Veerman suggested in de Volkskrant: get some good people together and let them come up with scenarios. Hold a debate about it and then say: this is the direction, this is how we are going to do it. Then you create clarity.

We’re excited to think about the opportunities and can imagine many different scenarios, based on the current constraints and objectives in the North Sea. We've examined half-hearted solutions enough now. Let’s explore a new piece of the Netherlands.

Three scenarios for a new Netherlands