About the Federation
The “Federatie Grote Monumentengemeenten” is a federation of Dutch municipalities with a large number of monuments in their areas. It is intended as a platform for public servants that, in their work, run into heritage preservation issues within their communities. The website is, however, accessible to anyone concerned about heritage preservation in their community.
The Federation’s administration coordinates the tasks that are required to meet the shared aim of making the work of public servants who run into heritage preservation issues easier and to promote the preservation of our cultural and historical heritage. The Federation is constantly searching for ways in which to harmonize modern development with the preservation of our history and culture.
The Federation’s administration pays close attention to national developments, discusses contemporary themes, and maintains a network of important partners. It organizes federation days for members, and twice a year there are also days organized around special themes. Federation days take place in a different municipality each time, and much of the focus is on visiting and learning about local projects. Because national practices are sometimes inappropriate at the local level, and because the national government sometimes proposes solutions that do not work as well at the local level, the Federation’s members also, when necessary, jointly lobby for particular issues.
The individual municipal governments retain political responsibility for the heritage preservation projects in their locality. Each public servant works with the mandate of her mayor and municipal council. This means that the Federation only takes a certain position in formal correspondence after agreement between all the member municipalities is achieved.
The municipalities currently allied with the Federation form a network that enables knowledge accumulation and the free exchange of experiences. The municipalities execute their tasks within the judicial guidelines laid out by the national and the provincial governments.
Laws and regulations
Monuments, archaeological sites, and culturally and historically valuable areas are protected in the Netherlands by law. The most important laws are the “Erfgoedwet”, “ Wet Algemene Bepalingen Omgevingsrecht” (Wabo), and the “Omgevingswet”.
Rules are not interpreted the same way by everyone. When necessary, the judicial branch will pronounce judgments that can provide guidelines for particular types of conflicts.
Finally, the national government has signed several European treaties agreeing to follow European standards in maintaining objects of cultural and historical value.
- The protection of monumental objects
Through, the “Erfgoedwet”, the Dutch Minister of Education, Culture, and Science can declare certain objects as protected national monuments on the basis of certain predetermined criteria. These objects are of special importance in the history of the Netherlands. They primarily include buildings and their interiors, but also other objects such as bridges, parks, or even public benches. Declaring an object a national monument proceeds in three steps: drawing up an inventory, selection, and formal judicial approval. Before a monument is truly judicially approved for protection, stake-holders have the opportunity to express their opinions. Only afterwards is a definitive decision is made. Provinces and municipalities can declare certain objects protected that are important for local history on the basis of local ordinances.
Special laws exist for protecting archaeological artefacts in the Netherlands and best practice guidelines related to excavation, documentation and preservation of archaeological materials are in place. Where possible archaeological artefacts are kept “in-situ” where they were discovered, and if that is not possible they are stored in a depot. Through exhibitions in, for example, archaeological museums, a selection of archaeological materials are viewable to the general public.
Protecting the cultural and historical value of areas
Not only individual buildings can have cultural and historical value. In many Dutch cities and towns, one can very clearly see the original place of settlement and its growth throughout the centuries. Starting already in 1965 the national government, and sometimes also municipalities, protect areas that display unique historical characteristics. Judicially these areas go by the name of “beschermd stads- of dorpsgezicht” (lit. “protected city or village-scape). Within these areas, area-use plans can maintain stricter guidelines concerning demolition and construction. With certain quality guidelines it is determined whether area-use plans alter the external characteristics of the environment too much.
The modernization of monument preservation
Our thinking about cultural and historical preservation has changed substantially in the last twenty years. A strong emphasis on preservation has slowly been displaced by a preservation perspective more accepting of change. This new perspective allows for making the changes necessary for buildings to continue to have a function, which better ensures their future. This perspective does, however, advocate doing as much as is possible to preserve the character of a building with any construction. A building should have a function in a modern context. Buildings that are only preserved through subsidies have a precarious future.
In addition to changes in our thinking about how to preserve objects, those in the monument preservation sector have increasingly emphasized the connection between objects and their surroundings. Monuments make an impression on their surroundings and the surrounding area has, in turn, an influence on the monument. Furthermore, the sector has increasingly emphasized the history, structure, and identity of non-protected areas. It has discovered the cultural and historical value of neighbourhoods from more recent eras. Concern now, much more generally, revolves around the identity of neighbourhoods and their history. Many discussions have in recent years revolved around the following question: what are the cultural and historical values typical of the area in question and which of these values should be preserved?
These discussions have had the result that the heritage value of historical buildings or that of certain municipal areas can now be protected in a different way. It is now judicially possible to preserve entire areas for the next generation.
The preservation of cultural and historical heritage through land-use plans
Land use plans determine the function and the use of grounds and buildings. Since January 1, 2012, the law mandates considering culture and history in land-use plans. This has been provided for by the “Omgevingswet” and the accompanying government decision. Communities are also now exchanging experiences on how to preserve heritage in land-use plans and how to set up rules to that end.
Cultural and historical heritage and economics
In addition to the right of existence of monumental buildings that still directly have an economically productive function, there is an additional economic justification for the preservation of monumental buildings. The substantial growth in wealth and in the availability of leisure time has had the result that many towns and cities with unique characteristics and sights attract tourists. Many local economies now profit substantially from tourists.
Tourists spend money on hotels, food and drinks, events, museums visits, and shopping. More and more cities and areas are promoting their uniqueness and identity, in large part on the basis of their heritage objects.
Permits, Supervision and Maintenance
For making any alterations to monuments a permit is required.
In the Netherlands, policymakers are currently trying both to decrease the number of regulations (deregulation) and to make regulations simpler.
Protected monuments are objects, which receive special attention from local and national government because of their unique socio-historical value, as well as their importance to the history of the Netherlands. Even though the owner of any piece of real estate is required by law to maintain his or her property, there are certain financial support options for the owners of monumental buildings. The national government, the provinces, and also some municipalities have their own regulations for providing financial support.
The most important regulation for nationally-protected monuments is the “Subsidie Instandhouding Monumenten” (known as Sim, trans. “Subsidy for Monument Maintenance”). Owners of monuments can obtain assistance in the form of a subsidy or a loan.
- Sim: Low interest loan
The majority of objects registered as national monuments are residential buildings. Owners are eligible for a low interest loan. The interest rate is set at 5% below the free market rate if higher than 1.5%; otherwise, the interest rate is set at 1.5%. These loans can provide assistance with both maintenance and restoration. They are managed by the Nationaal Restauratiefonds (NRF, trans. National Restoration Fund). The Dutch Tax Administration first submits an official declaration of the estimated costs of the maintenance or restoration project to the Nrf, which then uses this declaration to determine the amount of the loan. In most cases a permit will be required to undertake the maintenance or restoration project. These permits are issued by the municipality in which the project will take place.
- Sim: Subsidy
When a national monument is not a residential building, there is financial support for performing routine maintenance that is provided on the basis of a six-year schedule. In this case the financial support takes the form of a subsidy. With this subsidy the national government intends to stimulate scheduled, timely maintenance, and help avoid situations in which more serious restoration work is required.
The subsidies are managed by the Cultural Heritage Agency (Rijksdienst voor Cultureel Erfgoed).
Subsidies can also be used for “green monuments”, such as gardens and parks associated with estates, cloisters, city parks, and cemeteries.
- Provincial and municipal financing policies
The provinces and some municipalities have their own policies for providing financial support to monument owners. These policies usually apply only to monuments protected by the particular province or municipality, though national monuments can also sometimes benefit from them.
It is always prudent to inquire about the local policies.
Since 2012, the national government also specifically supports the restoration of national monuments. Frequently, this financing covers monuments such as windmills and churches..
Since the government foots a significant portion of the bill, certain conditions are attached to restoration projects supported by these subsidies, such as the need to include students who wish to learn the restoration trade. Subsidies are granted by the province.
- Other subsidies
In addition to financing for restoration work, arrangements also exist that encourage the adaptive reuse of culturally and historically valuable properties. Many older buildings no longer serve their original purpose. Though these buildings do not always fall into disuse because of economic conditions, the current crisis has caused a sharp increase in the amount of unused real estate. A policy is in place specifically to help make buildings weather resistant in order to prevent the property from becoming derelict before it has been put to a different use. There is also a subsidy available to allow for conducting feasibility studies of plans for adaptive reuse.
Requests should be submitted to the Cultural Heritage Agency
In order to make better use of monumental churches, a policy is in place to modify these buildings to host other types of public gatherings than merely regular church services. Examples of these modifications would be the installation of toilets and little kitchens. The “Nationaal Restauratiefonds” manages this policy.
Funds for heritage projects have also been made available at the European level for certain purposes.. Often these funds are made available for projects because they pertain to certain themes where different policy areas intersect. An example is sustainable development, in which heritage (European identity) is one aspect of the project and the exchange of knowledge can also be one of the goals.
The Dutch government is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 60% of the 1990 level by 2030). Many cities are trying to already be “climate-neutral” by 2030. By this they mean that their level of greenhouse emissions from fossil fuel use should no longer be detrimental to the climate. If urban activities still have a detrimental effect on the climate, then these should be compensated for by other measures to achieve climate neutrality. For the construction industry, this means that buildings should be constructed as energy-efficient as possible. Existing buildings, such as monuments, need to be inspected for ways in which they can be made more environmentally friendly. In the Netherlands, energy labels are placed on buildings. From the label someone can ascertain whether a building is energy-efficient or energy-inefficient upon entering (label A and H, respectively).
Monuments in principle make a substantial contribution to sustainability. Monuments have sometimes been around for hundreds of years. In all that time, nothing has had to be demolished and nothing new has had to have been built. Constructing a new building requires building materials that deplete valuable natural resources. Nevertheless, heating monuments, or older buildings in general, often requires much more energy.
The municipalities together have developed a toolkit to help owners improve the energy-efficiency of their building. Insulation should only proceed with great care. If not executed with sufficient expertise, installing insulation may lead to rotting wood or rusting anchor plates. Even if the insulation increases energy efficiency, the owner will often lose money on the whole because of the required repairs. The toolkit guides the monument owner in making her building more energy-efficient, without damaging its historical and cultural value.