Rural areas in the Netherlands are confronted with multiple challenges. Many landowners (such as farmers) are in search of a new financial perspective; there is a need for a more diverse housing stock; (regional) steps need to be taken to put climate policy into practice; and the Netherlands is committed to realizing new nature. This means that municipalities and provinces will have to find ways of dealing with these responsibilities in the best possible way. In the Test Lab ‘’Tiny Houses & New forest’’, we explore a way of thinking that offers a combined solution: how can nature be realized using a revenue model that is based on the creation of Tiny Houses on private land?
A new perspective for landowners
Many landowners, especially farmers, experience difficulties. 25% of the farmers in the Netherlands live below the poverty line, and another 25% consider to quite their business operations due to lack of succession. Moreover, farmers are under increasing pressure as a result of the impact of agricultural activities on biodiversity, climate, and the landscape. For this reason, the Dutch government, provinces, and municipalities are formulating ambitions for a transition to more sustainable and economically profitable rural areas. This new perspective provides space for broadening agricultural activities, including cross-overs with nature management, recreation, healthcare, short chains, and housing. Within our trial environment with municipalities and provinces, we aim to crystallize a future-proof perspective where rural areas, housing, and nature go hand in hand.
A more diverse housing stock
In the coming years, the housing stock will have to be expanded considerably, with specific emphasis on starter homes, elderly homes, and making homes more sustainable. There is an increasing need for Tiny Houses and other forms of small-scale housing. Whilst the share of single-person households is high in the Netherlands, there are relatively few homes available for this group.
According to Platform 31, Tiny Houses are a valuable addition to the existing housing stock, especially in light of demographic trends and challenges such as climate adaptation, biodiversity, and the housing challenge. This provides a great opportunity for municipalities.
Climate and biodiversity
According to the Climate Agreement, the Netherlands aspires to take major steps in the field of climate policy in the coming years. For example, the Climate Agreement states that the provinces and municipalities will have to revise their environmental vision in such a way as to arrange for forests to be created (and financed) when building new neighborhoods. After all, new forest contributes to the climate objectives; planting new forest is an effective way of storing CO2 above ground. In addition, trees provide cleaner air and retain water, wood can be used for bio-based construction, and the planting of additional forest promotes higher levels of biodiversity. New forest also offers opportunities for recreation. Furthermore, planting new forest helps provinces and municipalities to meet their ambition of realizing a total of 52.000 hectares of new nature by 2027 as part of the Nature Pact.
Test lab for combining functions
We are working with participating municipalities and provinces to develop the idea of creating nature together with landowners with Tiny Houses as an underlying business model. By selling or renting out Tiny Houses we create a business case for landowners who can break even in 6 years if they own their land. Demand for Tiny Houses in the Netherlands is much greater than supply. Tiny Houses are an interesting development from a sustainability perspective as the ecological footprint of these homes is very small and as they offer new housing opportunities. There lies an important role for provinces and municipalities in facilitating this development in terms of spatial zoning and licensing. This incorporates, among other things, investigating how laws, regulations, and spatial frameworks should be amended to facilitate the development of Tiny houses, nature, and agriculture/recreation
Set-up Test Lab
There are two parallel processes within the Test Lab: undertaking a Quick Scan per participating municipality or province and running a national Community of Practice (CoP) with all participating parties. Within these trajectories, the initial focus is on three key components: finding suitable locations, a clear business case, and regulations that facilitate the development of Tiny Houses. If deemed desirable, the focus may be broadened to incorporate communication, ecology and climate-proof planting, development of Tiny Houses, and political and societal support. Each party brings his/her expertise and experiences. For the Quick Scan, we will organize several meetings with internal and external stakeholders to investigate the feasibility of a project. The national CoP consists of a number of informative meetings where various municipalities and provinces come together to jointly solve challenges concerning e.g. regulations and the new Environmental Act.
Actions and results
The Test Lab made a good headstart; there was a great interest in the kick-off meeting in December 2018. Since then, the Test Lab generated a lot of media attention and has been listed in various Dutch trade journals (e.g. Vakblad Groen, Vakblad Landwerk, Vakblad Stadszaken) and Dutch newspapers (e.g. Trouw (28-02-2018 and 26-11-2019), Financieel Dagblad). This has also triggered interest from the central government (both politicians and various ministries). During exploratory conversations, they have all expressed their interest in the results of the Test Lab.
Since its inception in 2018, we have carried out two important pilots as part of the Test Lab: one municipal process with the municipality of Wageningen and one provincial process with the province of Overijssel. In addition, we have had conservations with many other municipalities and provinces to provide insight into the challenges and the opportunities that the Test Lab ‘’Tiny Houses & New Forest’’ can offer. Moreover, we have provided input for various policy trajectories. For instance, there are promising opportunities to incorporate the Test Lab in the forestry strategy of the province of Noord-Brabant. This has also sparked interest from other provinces in the Netherlands.
Pilot province of Overijssel
In collaboration with the province of Overijssel, we organized several meetings to introduce interested municipalities and Tiny House initiators to the possibilities of Tiny Houses and new nature. These meetings had a high turnout. We then made an inventory of the initiators in Overijssel and examined a number of these initiatives in more detail. Based on these cases, we developed a calculation model to gain an understanding of the underlying business cases of the projects. Many initiators were interested in combining food forests with Tiny Houses, so we specifically highlighted this business model. Findings showed that it is possible to arrive at positive business cases, but that policy preconditions can be decisive. For example, business cases depend on the number of Tiny Houses per hectare and the temporary or permanent nature of these homes. Herein lies a key role for municipalities to draw clear preconditions. As part of the Test Lab, we can offer support in developing an assessment framework that municipalities can build upon to develop matching policy.
Also interested in our calculation model? Then join the Test Lab!
Pilot Municipality of Wageningen
With the municipality of Wageningen, we organized a similar process transitioning from idea to policy. We organized various internal workshops to increase knowledge about the potential of Tiny Houses for creating new nature, and to create a shared understanding of the opportunities. We then jointly developed a draft assessment framework to enable municipalities to decide on the desired development and to prioritize initiatives that foster this. Providing more clarity on this in advance can help to attract the desired initiatives.
After administrative fine-tuning, the Test Lab was included in the draft environmental vision, which is now available for revision before it can be adopted by the municipal council. As part of the process, presentations were given at a participatory meeting with residents, and various workshops were organized for interested parties. This generated many positive responses. This paves the way for including the Test Lab in the final environmental vision.
If you would like to know more about how this process worked out in practice, and how such an assessment framework could look like, please contact us!
These pilots provided important insights. On the one hand, there is a lot of interest in developing Tiny Houses in combination with new nature. On the other hand, it proves to be challenging for individual initiators to develop a strong plan in the absence of clear preconditions from the province and municipality. This stimulates us to continue having discussions with municipalities and provinces, who can sign up for the next pilot. We are motivated to contribute all lessons learned so far for future pilots. The next upcoming national event will be in Autumn, which we will organize together with the province of Utrecht.
For more information, please contact Daan Groot via 06 – 3824 8897 or firstname.lastname@example.org.