Strategic Environmental Assessment of the Zuiderzee rail link

As part of the Structural Vision procedure for the proposed Zuiderzee rail link between Amsterdam and the north of the Netherlands, a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) was carried out on the so-called Regional Package elaborated as one of the alternatives to the link, looking specifically at major economic projects with a spatial planning dimension, known in the jargon as ‘spatio-economic projects’.

In the current planning phase (go or no-go for the rail link), the aim of these SEAs is to inventory, in broad brushstrokes, the main environmental impacts of the various alternatives so these can be duly considered in the upcoming decision.

As far as can be judged at present, it seems unlikely that the spatio-economic projects in the Regional Package will generate any really significant environmental impacts. The ZEPP power station, the Multi-Biorefinery, the Groningen ‘Central Zone’ and possibly expansion of the TT motorcycle racing circuit at Assen are anticipated to have the greatest impact. In the case of ZEPP, there is a risk of CO2 escaping from the subsurface and during transport, as well as of changes to local hydrology. On the other hand, the use of clean power generation technology will mean lower CO2 and NOx emissions. The Multi-Biorefinery may lead to environmental gains in terms of water quality, air pollutant emissions and energy consumption. One risk here is the possibility of stench nuisance. In the ‘Central Zone’, a general increase in the scale of economic activity, and particularly in transport movements (people and goods) may have a negative impact on the living environment. The infrastructure measures to the south of Assen racing circuit may have an impact on biodiversity. As no precise locations have yet been indicated, however, the impact on nature areas forming part of the Ecological Main Structure is unclear. According to the information available, 200 ha ‘nature compensation’ will be required for the development work around the circuit.

Apart from these projects, few significant, direct, primary environmental impacts are anticipated. There may well be substantial secondary impacts, though, both positive and negative, as projects are scaled up, say, or owing to knock-on effects. This will be of greatest relevance for changes in agricultural cropping patterns and the energy supply.

A more general secondary impact of the Regional Package will be an overall increase in economic activity in the north of the Netherlands. This will generate extra traffic and lead to development of additional commercial and housing estates. All of this will in turn again have a range of environmental impacts. This is also true of the so-called ‘accessibility alternatives’, however, although compared with full implementation of the Zuiderzee rail link the Regional Package will probably have less impact in this respect.