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Blog ⸱ 25-05-2023

The New Environment Act 2024, what will change?

The Environment Act took effect on 1 January 2024, marking a significant transformation by consolidating 26 laws, along with associated decrees and regulations, into one comprehensive law—the new Environment Act (Ow). This consolidation also includes four orders in council (AMvBs) and one ministerial regulation, namely the Quality of the Living Environment Decree (Bkl), the Building Works Decree (Bbl), the Activities in the Living Environment Decree (Bal), and the Environment Decree (Ob). The result is the implementation of a single Environmental Regulation.

In this first blog post, which will be part of a series, we, Michael Klijnstra and Pelin Oztürk, give an overview of the most relevant changes brought about by the new Environment Act.

Digital Environment Act system

First, the Digital System for the Environment Act (DSO) plays an important role in the implementation of the new Environment Act 2024. This digital desk bundles and replaces four existing facilities:

  • www.ruimtelijkeplannen.nl to view current zoning plans
  • the “Omgevingsloket” online (OLO) for submitting permit applications
  • the Activities Decree Internet Module (AIM) for submitting notifications for (environmental) establishments falling under the scope of the Activities Decree Environmental Management Act
  • the soil quality hotline.

Instead of the above facilities, a single digital counter, the “Omgevingsloket”, will be used, bringing together all information. In the new Environment Counter, you can see what rules apply to a location, apply for permits, make notifications and provide information about activities you wish to carry out.

The Environment Plan

With the entry into force of the new Environment Act, all zoning plans and management regulations from the current Spatial Planning Act will be replaced by the “environmental plan”. Whereas municipalities now have “one or more” zoning plans within their territory and there may therefore be many different zoning plans, under the Environment Act, one single environment plan will apply to the entire territory of the municipality. It is noteworthy that the Environment Act gives the municipal council, which is traditionally the competent authority for adopting zoning plans, the option to delegate the authority to adopt an environmental plan to the municipal executive to a certain extent.

Moreover, the environmental plan has a (much) broader scope than the zoning plan, which abandons the principle of “good spatial planning” and will refer to “a balanced allocation of functions to locations”. Furthermore, an important difference is that the competent authority can set environmental values, with which a safe and healthy “physical living environment” can be achieved or maintained. The environmental plan can also contain mandatory provisions, which is new compared to the current zoning plans. Furthermore, the competent authority will have more flexibility to regulate all activities, by including in the environment plan conditions linked to a notification obligation or a permit obligation (the “environment plan activity”). A simple example is construction activity, for example, which can be regulated in various ways within an environmental plan. The municipality links the construction activity to an environmental permit requirement, but can also include conditions under which the construction activity may take place – permit-free. To keep abreast of the construction activity and be able to check that the relevant conditions are met, the municipality can stipulate that a notification must be made before the start of that construction activity. Finally, as now, the new Environment Act includes the possibility to deviate from the environment plan (the “out-of-plan environment plan activity”).

In the next blog post of this blog series, we will discuss these options. In doing so, we will also cover the content of the environmental plan and the differences between the options with current zoning plans. We will also discuss the flexibility available to the competent authority under the Environment Act. Furthermore, we will consider the transitional law, which many developers will have to deal with in the coming years.

Construction and the entry into force of the Quality Assurance Act

The way construction activities are authorised will also change under the new Environment Act in 2024. A so-called “cut” will apply to construction activity, distinguishing between building rules (technical part) and the rules the municipality includes in the Environment Plan about building (spatial part).

Technical part

The technical part of the building activity is in principle not subject to a permit requirement, unless it is designated as requiring a permit in an AMvB (Art. 5 section 2 Ow). In the Bbl, you can find when the technical part of the building activity requires a permit. In particular, Articles 2.25 and 2.26 Bbl designate the construction activities requiring a permit. For example, a structure that is not on the ground and is higher than 5 metres, is provided with a second storey, becomes a main building as a result of the building activity or is provided with a roof terrace. In the case of a structure without a roof, this becomes subject to a permit requirement if the building height exceeds 5 metres or if it is an underground structure.

Incidentally, the Bbl also designates building activities for which there is no permit obligation, but which do require notification (Art. 2.27 Bbl). Relevant here is that the Quality Assurance Act (Wkb) will enter into force step by step as of 1 January 2024. We will publish a separate blog post on this. In short, the Wkb leads to the testing of compliance with the rules in the Bbl – before and during construction work – being entrusted to a private supervisor, the “quality assurance body”. That quality assurance body must, in turn, also comply with the requirements set out in the Wkb.

Spatial part

Does the environment plan also include rules for building (the spatial part)? Then this counts as an “environmental plan activity” and construction is not allowed without an environmental permit, unless it concerns a case designated by AMvB. Article 2.29 Bbl designates those permit-free building activities. This includes a number of the permit-free cases that we are already familiar with from Sections 2 and 3 of Annex II to the Environmental Law Decree (the Bor). These include a dormer in the rear roof plane, ordinary maintenance where the detailing, profiling and design do not change, garden furniture and garden fences no higher than 1 metre. Incidentally, these rules apply without prejudice to any provisions in the environment plan on maintaining a structure that relate to the serious defacement of the appearance of that structure.

Procedures

There is also much to write about the procedures to be followed to obtain the necessary environmental permits or to adopt an environmental plan. In principle, the Omgevingswet assumes the regular preparation procedure with a decision period of 8 weeks, with the possibility of extending it once by a maximum of 6 weeks. This rule applies not only to (applications for) environmental permits for the construction activity and the environmental plan activity, but also for the deviation from the environmental plan (the off-plan environmental plan activity). However, the competent authority does have the power to declare the extensive preparation procedure applicable in two cases: if it concerns an activity that has or may have significant effects on the physical living environment and against which several interested parties are expected to have objections, or if the applicant has requested this or agreed to it (Art. 16.65 Ow).

Blog series

In the coming period, we will publish several blog posts, which will address the above-mentioned aspects as well as other relevant parts of the Environment Act. Would you like to stay informed? Then follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to the newsletter here.

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