Making areas legal entities could make the difference

21 April 2022, Martin Doeswijk

I heard an interesting piece on the radio last week on Mar Menor (‘minor sea’), a saltwater lagoon in the south-east of Spain which is the first nature reserve in Europe to have been made a legal entity in its own right.

Although this isn’t a new phenomenon - as nature reserves such as rivers, forests and lakes have been accorded rights elsewhere in the world - I think it’s a great idea. I’ve previously written that the vast majority of our soils are unhealthy due to climate change, pollution, over-exploitation and loss of biodiversity. It would be great if the soil were to be given a say in the decision-making.

Which triggered the following, exciting thought. In the Netherlands we won’t be able to build all the buildings that we need to build. There isn’t enough space and lots of people want to move to the already densely populated West of the Netherlands anyway. The upshot of this is that plans are being developed to build on the lowest point in the Netherlands.

What would happen if the soil in that region were to be a legal entity? We’d definitely be asking why we’re looking to build on a site that will require interminable aftercare to ensure that it doesn’t subside and become flooded.

So wouldn’t it be far more sustainable to build new residential areas somewhere where there’s more space, such as at sea? Or to give industrial complexes a new, sustainable, future-proof location? This would make it possible to reorganise the current, outdated, polluted sites near residential areas in a sustainable way or to let them return to nature.

The answer will require a long-term vision that stretches well beyond a cabinet’s term in government, thinking big and, last but not least, innovativeness and entrepreneurial spirit too. In any case, the Delta Works weren’t completed overnight, were they?

The tasks facing us (climate, housing, lack of space, pollution) speak for themselves. The solutions won’t be easy, but perhaps the less obvious choices will become genuine options if we make the areas in question legal entities, where appropriate.

Which is why I think the time is ripe now to start doing some proper work on land reclamation in the North Sea or floating cities, thereby doing justice to the soil that we’re over-exploiting at present. The fact that this would be a new, iconic project on our nation’s CV will be a bonus.

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