The province of Gelderland does not want to help Schiphol and Lelystad Airport obtain a nitrogen permit. The airports say they have bought up enough farms, but need the provinces to use the nitrogen space that has been released as a result. However, according to lawyers with whom NOS spoke, provinces can do little about this.
There is no nitrogen permit for nitrogen emissions from aircraft taking off and landing at Schiphol. Lelystad Airport, which is part of Schiphol, is still not in use due to the lack of such a permit.
Schiphol announced last month that it had bought twelve farms in North Holland, South Holland, Utrecht and Gelderland. The airports would have paid tens of millions of euros for this. According to Schiphol, six farms in North Holland, three in South Holland and one in Utrecht are enough to get the necessary permit after years of illegal flying. According to the airport, Lelystad Airport could open through the purchase of three livestock farms in Gelderland.
Before the airports can use the nitrogen space, it is up to the provinces to withdraw the old permits from the farms that have been bought up. Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland do not yet see any good arguments to deviate from this, because Schiphol works according to the rules. Utrecht is still in doubt. But the Gelderland provincial administrator Peter Drenth (CDA) does not intend to cooperate.
Housing more important than Schiphol
The province prefers to use the released nitrogen space for other things. “First nature, then the farmers who had arranged things well, but now not anymore because of the ruling of the Council of State. Then things like housing seem much more important to me than an airport.”
Not only the province is critical. The House of Representatives is also unhappy with the purchase of farms by Schiphol. “Now it is still a kind of Wild West situation: whoever has the most money can do what he wants. Provinces do not have such deep pockets and are also bound by European rules,” says assistant professor of administrative law Rogier Kegge (Leiden University). The ministry is looking at legislation to get a better grip on nitrogen trading.
But until then, Schiphol is simply within its rights. Lawyers say that although the provinces are responsible for withdrawing farmer’s permits, that does not mean that they can just refuse this. This is only allowed if provinces can properly substantiate that withdrawal of permits is bad for nature. That will not work in this case, the lawyers estimate.
Provincial authorities can, however, cause delays by resisting. The fact that Gelderland refuses to revoke the permits of the three farms may therefore mean that it will take even longer before Lelystad Airport is allowed to open. The provinces could also impose more requirements to make nitrogen trading more difficult in the future, but that does not change the situation at Schiphol right now.
The provinces are standing in the way of the fact that the government has made nitrogen space freely tradable. They must have completed their plans this summer, stating how they are going to achieve the cabinet’s nitrogen targets. But because companies compete with them for nitrogen space on the free market, provinces can lose out when buying up companies that can achieve the most nitrogen profit. This will make it more difficult for provinces to achieve the ambitious goals.
The national government also wants major polluters to stop emitting. This will create more room for construction and sustainability projects, which now often run into nitrogen problems. With the nitrogen space that is created by tackling major polluters, the cabinet wants to help farmers who got into legal problems due to government actions.
A Schiphol spokesperson says in a response: “In our opinion, it is logical that existing regulations are followed and that the permits of the farms in question are withdrawn.”
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