For the proposed Zuiderzee rail link between Amsterdam and the north of the Netherlands the Dutch cabinet has elaborated a so-called Structural Vision. This includes a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to identify the main environmental impacts of the various alternatives proposed for the link at an early stage of proceedings so they can be duly addressed in the planning procedure. Besides several ‘accessibility alternatives’ (AAs), a so-called ‘transition alternative’ (TA) was also put forward, designed to improve the economic structure of North Netherlands as well as help steer the country as a whole towards its scheduled transition to a sustainable energy supply by the year 2050.
Because of time constraints a slightly different SEA procedure was followed for the TA, with (the various elements of) the plan being evaluated by a team of experts led by CE Delft. In contrast to the standard SEA carried out for the AAs, a ‘fast-track’ procedure was thus adopted whereby the main anticipated environmental impacts were approximately identified within the space of two weeks.
Although this meant the impacts of the Transition Alternative were assessed in less detail than in the case of the Accessibility Alternatives, it did not preclude evaluation at the strategic level required for the Structural Vision.
A tentative comparison of these alternatives for the projected Zuiderzee link yielded the following results:
- The AAs encompass a far larger scale level than the TA; given the nature of rail infrastructure, the former will impact on a far larger swathe of the country.
- Because of differences of substance and scale, the TA generally scores better in the SEA than the AAs. The main potential problem identified for the TA are impacts at the Eems Port, which could potentially affect the ecological values of the Wadden Sea, perhaps significantly. Another key issue are the biodiversity impacts associated with local and overseas cultivation of energy crops. Most of the local impacts identified for the TA can be miti-gated, either in part or entirely.
- The TA will give a kick-start to practical transformation of the Netherlands’ energy supply and thus give a positive impulse to a climate-friendlier economy. It should be appreciated, though, that it is hard to compare the TA with a reference alternative – itself a challenge to design, given the major developments that will be occurring in power generation and biomass cultivation and usage in the next few years.