Dutch nitrogen policy is contrary to European nature legislation, the Council of State ruled on Wednesday. The ruling of the highest administrative court can have far-reaching consequences for construction projects in the vicinity of nature reserves.

From now on, permits for livestock farms, roads and business parks may no longer be issued on the basis of current nitrogen regulations.

Too high concentrations of nitrogen are harmful to nature and health. Due to an excess of nitrogen, certain plant species grow faster, while others end up under pressure.

For a dozen livestock farms, the ruling means that their nature permit is immediately invalid. Many more court cases follow in which the so-called Nitrogen Approach Program (PAS) plays a role: around 180 cases are involved at the Council of State alone.

Construction of roads or farms depends on permits

On the basis of the PAS, governments gave permission for all kinds of activities in which nitrogen is emitted. For example, for the construction of a road or the construction of a livestock farm.

The starting point was that a permit would be granted if measures were taken to limit damage to nature. For example, when building sheds, this means that the nitrogen-rich air must leave the shed purified. The problem with this approach is that it is not at all clear beforehand whether the measures work.

The PAS permits must be issued for construction projects and farms in the vicinity of protected nature areas, so-called Natura 2000 areas.

Biesbosch and Oostvaardersplassen are protected areas

The Netherlands has more than 160 Natura 2000 areas, such as the Wadden Sea, the Fochteloërveen, the Oosterschelde, the Biesbosch and the Oostvaardersplassen.

According to European rules, certain animal species in these areas must be protected in order to preserve the biodiversity in that area.

De Biesbosch, which is also a Natura 2000 area. (Photo: Sanoma Media)

Earlier judgment of the European Court is confirmed

The Council of State ruled on Wednesday that the criteria for granting permits do not comply with European legislation and that the permits may therefore no longer be granted on the basis of the PAS.

The ruling in the case, which was brought by various nature organizations, comes as no surprise. The Council of State had asked the European Court of Justice for an opinion on nitrogen policy. The Court also ruled against the Dutch government.

Milieudefensie calls the statement "good news for nature, the climate and our health". The organization calls on the government to "not come up with new tricks to bypass European rules".

The Oosterschelde is one of the more than 160 Natura 2000 areas in the Netherlands. (Photo: NU.nl/Nella Padmos)

Nitrogen policy is an obstacle for major motorway projects

Nitrogen policy plays a role in various court cases involving major projects on motorways. These include the widening of the A27 and A12 on the Utrecht ring road, the widening and extension of the A15 and A12 at Arnhem and planned connections on the A9 at Heiloo and Castricum.

Greenpeace calls the Council of State's destruction of Dutch nitrogen policy "groundbreaking". According to the organization, a "serious sustainability of agriculture" is unavoidable as a result of the ruling. Greenpeace concludes on the basis of the ruling of the Supreme Administrative Court that the herd will now have to shrink. Livestock farming emits the most nitrogen in the form of ammonia.

See also: What we do well in Dutch nature


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