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Policy Implicationsprint

Key issues

The study has the following messages for Dutch policy makers.

New migrants will have a major impact on new land use, in particular for housing, infrastructure, recreation areas and industrial land use.
Demographic and economic growth are mostly determined by future immigration flows.

After 2020 traditional issues regarding the natural and built environment may lose urgency. Congestion growth will level off, air quality will generally improve, and the need for new housing, industrial estates and business parks may disappear. The impact of these trends will be felt at a regional level first. The effects may be both negative (abandoning of residential areas and industrial estates) and positive (opportunities to improve living quality).

Other issues in the built environment may become more urgent.
The growing share of non-European migrants in the Dutch population may increase the existing mismatch of the urban housing and labour market and generate social conflicts. Climate change will continue to be a persistent environmental problem; in the long run the rising seawater level and river runoff will create a water safety problem.

There is a risk of overinvestment.
New infrastructure, residential areas and industrial estates require long-term planning and once established may last for tens of years, if not more. In a population decrease scenario these investments may become obsolete within a decade after realisation, leading to local problems of decay of the built environment. Given the duration time of these investments, the social cost of public investment policies bases on continued growth may exceed social benefits.

The composition of the population and households will alter due to demographic developments, like ageing, immigration, and household size reduction.
Single, old-aged and migrant households will grow considerably, especially in the main cities. This will affect regional labour markets, housing demand and the nature of commercial and social services.

European policy will become more influential.
Further integration of the European labour market and a shift in the European immigration policy influence the size and composition of the Dutch population and the demand for housing, employment, recreation, etc. The common EU agricultural policy will change the agricultural landscape. In addition, European environmental policy may have an influence on future spatial developments. In the Dutch situation, which is characterized by high population density and intensive land use, European environmental regulation and standards may cause local conflicts between housing and infrastructure or agriculture and nature development. Finally, the national gas reserves will gradually run down; Dutch energy supply will be more dependent on imports and thus on international political cooperation.


This study does not intend to make policy choices. Instead it presents an approach that may support policy makers in developing robust policies and setting priorities.

Robust policies
Some trends are relatively certain, such as the demographic change after 2020, the proportional increase of the ageing population, the household size reduction, increasing personal incomes and climate change. Other trends, such as the effects of immigration, economic growth and EU policy, are more difficult to predict. Policy makers are challenged to apply flexible and robust strategies that allow for such uncertainty.

Balancing social costs and benefits
In the absence of a robust strategy, policy makers will have to make a choice. Such a policy choice should include an analysis of future social costs and benefits of both options, the assessment of short and long term risks, and the effects for different generations, population groups and regions. The four scenarios and the quantitative data presented in this study provide useful instruments for such a cost-benefit analysis.