Day Two

Trip Start Nov 02, 2009
Trip End Nov 05, 2009

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Flag of Netherlands  , Utrecht,
Tuesday, November 3, 2009

An early start saw us catching the 08.36 train from Amsterdam Centraal bound for Amersfoort Vathorst. The journey took about an hour heading due east from the city. Vathorst is a new urban quarter of approx 560ha in size located to the north of Amersfoort, and is being promoted under the city theme of 'a world of difference'. The development stems from the Fourth Memorandum of Spatial Planning, a national programme dating back to 1993 and is part of the Vinex programme - the Dutch Ten Year Housing Programme. Since then new developments and strategies have emerged and delivery today is being undertaken by a joint-venture company called Development Company Vanthorst (OBV) which is a public private partnership between the municipality of Amersfoort and five private partners. This development offered helpful synergies with Rackheath, providing a scale of the development, approx 4500 homes have been built and we walked from one side of the settlement to the other, and it is building on an existing rural community. The residential area will be developed between 2000 and 2018, with the objective of building some 11000 houses with all the necessary amenities, including shopping facilities, a railway station, offices and a business park are all part of the plan. 30% of the housing will be social housing.

Vathorst differes from earlier urban extensions to the city in being a free-standing settlement with community facilities built from the start. 4 main challenges had to be overcome:
- extending beyond the motorway that formed the clear boundary of the city;
- incorporating an existing rural village;
- building on land occupoed by farming and industry; and
- dealing with polluted and low-lying land that was liable to flooding.

A number of steps were taken over a 4-5 year period before building started in 2001. Once agreement was reached with the government on the size of the extension, the contribution they would make to reclaiming contaminated land and on connecting the settlement to the two motorways it adjoined:
- theme groups were set up to develop ideas, such as how people might live in the 21st century. A major idea has been to support cultural development including the idea of people living and working from home;
- a joint development company was established with the local authority retaining 50% share and a consortium of five companies as the other. The private investors included those who had bought land in the area but alos those who the city wanted to involve because of the good work they had done previously;
- the jvc employs a staff of under 15 with a Chief Executive from the private sector and a chairman appointed by the municipality. It works through developers and housebuilders, most of whom are members of the company and through two social housing companies. It is responsible for land acquisition; urban planning; engineering; commissioning infrastructure and allocating sites.

The company formally commissioned the master plan with the city's planner working alongside a notable Dutch urban designer. All the partners were involved in the process. It sounds like a model that we should explore in the context of Rackheath. The master plan is based on 4 separate districts in very differnet styles. The compnay borrowed 750 million euros at a low interest rate to be repaid over 15 years. The borrowings are repaid out of the proceeds from the land sales and the company has built a buffer which allows it to act entrepreneurially; for example it funded the railway company to open the station several years before the population justified it and underwrote an entrepeneur to open a restaurant. Eight different builders and 50 differnet architects are involved, with no one architect designing more than 80 units to ensure variety and choice. The social element which covers both subsidised renting and housing for sale is allocated through the municipality.

We arrived at the newly constructed railway station which straddles the main road that snakes through the development. First stop was to visit a 14 storey high private sector block, within the higher density housing area. The gas central heating plant was visible adjacent to the railway line, but appeared very modest in scale. This phase exhibited a very urban feel, built on a grid pattern around a canal network, with some elements reminiscent of the two up and two down terrraces of England's northern cities, but with a modern and Dutch interpretation. The quarter could be viewed clearly from the top floor of the tower block, as we gathered in an unsold apartment on the market for approximately 450,000 euros. The apartment had four bedrooms over two floors and stunning views from the balcony, although the early morning mist provided a slight haze in the distance. The grid pattern could be clearly seen below with the predominantly flat roofed terraced blocks, grouped around areas of open sapce, both public and private.

Whilst walking through the development I amanged to catch the refuse vehcile with one operator at work. In the lower density parts, wheely bins are still used. Rubbish is collected twice a week and tranpsorted to a transfer station. Material is sorted and the recyclables are re-used, the non-recyclables are taken by barge to be turned into electricity.

We left the higher density area and went through the shopping centre which is well provided with shops and saw the community building which currently houses a primary school. The medical centre is in portacabins but at least it is in place. We then walked along a footpath that appears to connect the whole settlement, through the lower density areas which are very pleasant.

At the information centre we had the opportunity to ask questions of the Cheif Executive of the Development Company. Whilst the variety is interesting I was disappointed that little appeared to have been acheived in keeping the car out of the development.

Almere is a new city that the government began building in the 1970's. it is now due to increase its size by a further 100k to 350k. It is an interesting location and more will follow but for now enjoy the pictures.

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