Progress in spatial adaptation

The Delta Decision on Spatial Adaptation revolves around a transition to a climate-proof and water-resilient spatial design by 2050. An interim goal is for the central government, provinces, municipalities, and district water boards to embed climate-proof and water-resilient action in their policies by 2020. The governments have set down their collective commitment in the Administrative Agreement on the Delta Programme. The new Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation, to be included in the Delta Programme with effect from this year, sets out ambitions and agreements jointly to expedite and intensify the efforts. This first Plan is focused on combating waterlogging, urban flooding, and heat stress. Governments and other parties have already initiated many efforts on their own, and a national incentive programme has been set up to further the transition. The central government is flood-proofing thirteen national vital and vulnerable functions.

Delta Decision on Spatial Adaptation

See DP2015, Paragraph 2.4, Delta Decision on Spatial Adaptation.

On schedule

For the schedule of studies, measures, and provisions relating to spatial adaptation, refer to the new Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation (Part III).

Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation

Under the supervision of the Delta Programme Commissioner, municipalities, district water boards, provinces, and the central government have drawn up a first version of the Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation. This new Delta Plan is aimed at expediting the transition to a climate-proof and water-resilient living environment, and combating the non-committal nature of the efforts. This is essential in view of the increasing urgency of climate adaptation. The interim evaluation of the Delta Decision on Spatial Adaptation shows that acceleration and intensification are imperative if we want to attain the goal of a climate-proof and water-resilient design by 2050. In this first Plan, the focus is on waterlogging and heat stress, but it also addresses drought and reducing the impact of flooding through spatial planning.

The Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation reflects the interim goals as set down by the joint governments (see Figure 2). By no later than 2019, all the municipalities, district water boards, provinces, and the central government (including Rijkswaterstaat) will conduct stress tests, in collaboration with the stakeholders, in both urban and rural areas in order to gain insight into the vulnerability to climate extremes. This stress test will be repeated every six years. The central government will take the lead to develop a “standardised” stress test in 2017, in close collaboration with the district water boards, municipalities, providers of existing stress tests, and knowledge institutes such as the Foundation for Applied Water Research STOWA and the RIONED Foundation [umbrella organisation in the field of urban water management and sewer systems]. In addition to the standard components, this stress test will provide sufficient scope for local and regional customisation, considering the location-specific issues and requirements. 

On the basis of this analysis of the tasking the governments will set down the ambitions at the local and regional levels. Subsequently, they will draft spatial adaptation strategies and implementation agendas, in consultation with NGOs. The governments will embed the ensuing spatial adaptation ambitions in their policies on the physical living environment, for example, in the Environmental Visions drawn up under the Environment Act. 

The Delta Plan comprises an overview of instruments, agreements on the exchange of knowledge, and a nationwide governance framework. The Delta Plan will be reviewed and updated annually. The Delta Plan at hand is a first version. The Delta Programme Commissioner monitors whether its elaboration is given sufficient impetus. His findings will be reflected in the subsequent reviewed Delta Plan.

In 2015, the House of Representatives adopted a motion requesting the government to develop, in concert with municipalities, district water boards, and other parties a forceful action plan in 2016 to foster urban greening and water storage in the cities. This motion is substantiated with the Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation. It also accommodates the promotion of private initiatives aimed at urban greening and water retention. This plan thus substantiates another motion adopted by the House of Representatives. Finally, this Delta Plan substantiates the Visser motion (July 2016), in which the House of Representatives requests the government to come up with a plan, in consultation with the district water boards and municipalities, that would facilitate a more rapid response in extreme situations in order to minimise the damage.


Motion submitted by MPs Jacobi and Dik-Faber regarding an Urban Water Management action plan, Parliamentary Document 34300-J no. 22.


Motion submitted by MPs Jacobi and Leenders regarding financial incentives for private individuals for greening and water retention, Parliamentary Document 34550-J no. 23.

Visser motion

Motion submitted by MP Visser & co regarding a plan for a more rapid response to extreme waterlogging, Parliamentary Document 34436 no. 8.

The concerted governments in the provinces of Noord-Brabant and Limburg have decided to speed up their climate adaptation efforts, in order to be better prepared for climate change (see text box Giving impetus to climate adaptation – Invitation to South-Netherlands in Paragraph 4.8). The approach adopted in the southern part of the country has also been taken into consideration in the drafting of the first Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation. The Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment has thus substantiated the promise to embrace this initiative, following the Geurts motion in November 2016.

Geurts motion

Amended motion by MP Geurts regarding the nomination of the Code Orange action plan as a pioneering project Parliamentary Document 34550-J no. 21.

Figure 2

Interim goals

Interim evaluation

The first interim evaluation of the Delta Decision on Spatial Adaptation was completed at the beginning of 2017, earlier than announced in Delta Programme 2015. The evaluation shows the progress made with respect to the transition to climate-proof and water-resilient action among the authorities, and whether the instruments and measures developed will suffice to attain the goals set for 2020 and 2050. The interim evaluation reveals that acceleration and intensification are essential, in order to accomplish the goals set out in the Delta Decision. The evaluation was conducted ahead of schedule, in order to be able to incorporate the results into the Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation. So they have been.

The evaluation shows that spatial adaptation is still a rather vague concept. There is a need for sharp problem analyses, and clear goals and ambitions for areas such as economic development, health, safety, and liveability. Organisations do not always possess sufficient knowledge, and often lack concrete courses of action. The applicability of expertise and insights from practical examples must be expanded. The regional level is aptly suitable for concretising goals, instruments, and action plans, and for linking climate taskings with other physical taskings. This calls for shared ownership and ambitions at the regional level. The evaluation further shows that the sense of urgency differs considerably from one topic to the next (flood risk management, vital and vulnerable functions, waterlogging, heat, and drought). Large organisations and organisations that have experienced adverse consequences tend to be more active than other organisations. Finally, it appears that parties are exploring insufficient new avenues for ensuring that spatial adaptation will be an integral element of policy and implementation by 2020. The Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation is taking the results of the evaluation into account. The results will also be used for the National Climate Adaptation Strategy.

Incentive Programme

In 2017, for the third consecutive year, the Incentive Programme initiated various activities and measures to support the transition, as planned. The lessons from the evaluation have been used to shift emphases and intensify some components. For example, a new living lab was launched in Dordrecht. The Incentive Programme has also actively fostered the performance of stress tests and the embedding of climate adaptation in Environmental Visions. Collaboration with NGOs has been continued, and the first steps have been taken to enter into dialogue with housing corporations. The efforts focused on the second layer of multi-layer flood risk management (spatial planning) have been given impetus under the Incentive Programme, through the follow-up study “Marken boven water II“[Marken above water II], and a meeting document for policy-makers on spatial design in flood protection taskings and the role of spatial professionals in such taskings. The next step will involve the preparation of an assessment framework for multi-layer flood risk management to support choices for water-resilient spatial planning. The ten impact projects selected in the first and second rounds have been completed. The results were presented during the Spatial Adaptation Network Day in early 2017. In 2017, the five impact projects selected in the third round will be completed. The results and lessons (do’s and don’ts) will be available in the knowledge portal (www.ruimtelijkeadaptatie.nl/english), through the Ruimtelijke adaptatie [Spatial adaptation] newsletter, and in theme-based meetings. The knowledge portal was updated in 2017, in response to requirements and suggestions put forth by users; the Climate Impact Atlas was updated with the latest climate scenarios.

Marken boven water II

See text box Cultural heritage and the Delta Programme, this Paragraph 2.4.

living lab

For a description of a living lab, see Paragraph 4.2, under Implementation of spatial adaptation strategy.

Under the Incentive Programme, several studies have been conducted into spatial adaptation in urban areas. Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences has published a research report entitled Het klimaat past ook in uw straatje [The climate, up your alley too]. This report features a climate-proof design for ten typical urban streets. The costs and benefits show that in many cases, a climate-proof design will not be more expensive than a traditional design. Furthermore, a study has been completed into active groundwater management in urban areas, aimed at the prevention of excessively low and high groundwater levels. The Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation sets out that a new Incentive Programme will be set up for the period 2018-2022.

Within the context of the “Monitoring, Analysing, Acting” system, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency is investigating how spatial adaptation can be monitored, and is exploring experience gained in this field abroad. This study is funded under the Incentive Programme. The project will run until mid-2018. 

Sharing knowledge

Knowledge sharing is essential to spatial adaptation, especially with a view to its increasing urgency and because the taskings require a coherent approach. That is why a national knowledge exchange platform is being set up. This platform involves a scale-up of the successful network approach adopted by Amsterdam Rainproof and other successful network initiatives. In 2017, the parties involved exchanged expertise in well attended meetings on topics such as the stress test, environmental visions, tailor-made projects, and guidelines for spatial adaptation. The NKWK Climate-proof Cities focus area has been publishing knowledge newspapers since March 2017. The first edition revolved around waterlogging. The projects tour organised by this focus area visited Twente (Climate-active City Partnership), Culemborg, Nijmegen, and Dordrecht. These working visits enabled the participants to share expertise and experience. Since 2017, the www.ruimtelijkeadaptatie.nl/english website has featured various “knowledge clips” (short video films) developed in collaboration with the climate adaptation network of the professional higher education sector. Knowledge has also been disseminated at the Spatial Adaptation Network Day and through the spatial adaptationnewsletter, newspaper and magazine articles, the ROmagazine Stad in het nieuwe klimaat [City in the new climate] special, and the networks of the Climate-proof Cities Alliance and the Climate Adaptation City Deal.


National Water and Climate Knowledge and Innovation Programme.

projects tour

Climate-proof City.

Climate Adaptation City Deal.

See under Participation in this chapter 2.4 Progress in spatial adaptation.

National vital and vulnerable functions

The efforts of the central government to improve the flood protection of the thirteen national, vital and vulnerable functions are on schedule in the purview of the interim goal for 2020: by 2020, the central government must have adopted the required policy and regulations pertaining to the national vital and vulnerable functions. The Derde voortgangs­rapportage Aanpak nationale Vitale en Kwetsbare functies [Third progress report on the Approach to national vital and vulnerable functions]outlines the progress made in the period September 2016 to September 2017. The report focuses particular attention on the interconnectivity between the ambition levels for the thirteen functions. The Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation is utilising the data from this progress report.

The progress report shows that with respect to nuclear plants and laboratories working with infectious substances (including genetically modified organisms), policy and regulations are up to par, as is their implementation. The report points out that there is no uniform standard for a “water-resilient design”. It is up to each Ministry to formulate, in consultation with the sector, what is necessary and proportionate for a particular function. The Ministries do keep pace with one another, and largely follow the same time schedule, with the “Analysis, Ambition, Action” steps (see Figure 3). Furthermore, whenever possible they use the same flood scenarios, and they are aware of interdependencies between the functions. For example, this chain dependency means that any power failure during and after a flood will have a major impact on other sectors, such as natural gas, telecom, and IT facilities, the health sector, the water chain, and the chemical sector. 

The realistic point of departure that the power will fail in flooded areas has a considerable impact on the ambition levels pertaining to functions that are power-dependent. With respect to other functions, the ambition is to keep operating as best and for as long as possible (drinking water, emergency communication, and health), or prevent major consequences for people and the environment (chemical industry, nuclear plants, and laboratories working with infectious substances). For any areas that are not flooded, the ambition is to keep the national vital and vulnerable functions operational. This also requires measures. The same applies to the ambition of designing the vital and vulnerable functions in a manner that enables the rapid restoration of an area. In deep polders, pumping stations constitute a key factor to this end. However, rapid draining will only make sense if the other vital and vulnerable functions can subsequently be restored rapidly as well. The “backbone” concept seems effective in the purview of restoration, i.e., the basic functions and protection measures required to have a flooded area operational again. An element of this “backbone” is the “continuous” operation of the main pumping station. 

The approach to the national vital and vulnerable functions is interrelated with other efforts, such as the Government-wide strategy for vital infrastructure, the National Climate Adaptation Strategy, and the Water and Evacuation project. The interconnectivity between the ambition levels for the thirteen functions and the local and regional area pilots for vital and vulnerable functions (Westpoort, Botlek, IJssel-Vechtdelta, and Zeeland) has been discussed in a collective consultative group.

interconnectivity between the ambition levels for the thirteen functions

See Background Document D, Derde voortgangsrapportage Aanpak nationale Vitale en Kwetsbare functies [Third progress report on approach to national vital and vulnerable functions], for a first exploration of policy ambitions pertaining to “continued operation in flooded areas” and “accelerated restoration”.

Figure 3

Summary of progress among vital and vulnerable functions with respect to "Analysis, Ambition, Action" steps (situation as of 2017)

* No insight yet into progress with respect to "Action" step. RIVM will draw up a summary based on the individual analyses conducted by businesses (chemical sector) that have been submitted to the competent authorities.

On track

The interim evaluation presents a picture of the progress made, and compares such progress with what is needed to attain the long-term goals set for 2050. The conclusion is that acceleration and intensification remain essential, despite the many efforts that the parties have already initiated under their own steam. Some stakeholders are still failing to take sufficient action. In addition, the parties lack sufficient expertise and thus fail to develop concrete courses of action. The initiatives rely too much on some committed individuals. Many initiatives are based on current policies related to water, including waste water: as yet, insufficient attention is being paid to additional activities and integration with the strategies to tackle heat, drought, and vital and vulnerable functions. The new Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation is intended to effect the required acceleration and intensification, and develop a systematic approach within the municipalities.

With respect to vital and vulnerable functions, the interim evaluation concludes that attention among local and regional governments is lagging behind, yet awareness and knowledge of the potential impact of a flood have increased. The sense of urgency has also increased, and the central government has developed “ownership” of the topic. 

Integrated approach

An integrated approach, by connecting water and spatial planning, is an inherent component of the Spatial Adaptation Delta Programme. This also extends to the topics of drought and heat. Spatial planning always involves multiple functions, which calls for integrated considerations. It is imperative for climate-proofing to eventually become a standard element in spatial developments, such as the construction of infrastructure, housing, and nature development (“mainstreaming”). 

The Environment Act, that will go into force within a few years, requires the central government, provinces, and municipalities to draw up integrated Environmental Visions, comprising strategic long-term key choices for the physical living environment. It is important for these visions to identify the impact of climate change on the area concerned, and to embed climate-proofing policies. Many provinces and municipalities have already formulated such visions, or are working on them. At the national level, the project brief entitled De opgaven voor de Nationale Omgevingsvisie [The taskings involved in the National Environmental Vision] constitutes the prelude to the Environmental Vision. One of the four strategic taskings identified in this document is a climate-proof and climate-neutral society.

Actual practice already features many examples of an integrated approach to spatial adaptation. In the Cooling and utilising heat impact project, the Utrecht region is setting up two business cases in which surface water cooling (to combat heat and improve water quality) is combined with energy transition taskings. Through co-creation with residents, Dordrecht is combining the green-blue Dordtwijk zone with a water storage area, while ideas for climate-adaptive residential neighbourhoods, improved water quality, and nature are elaborated in a living lab. Breda is already addressing long-term climate adaptation taskings in long-term projects, such as new developments, restructuring of residential areas, and road construction. The authorities in Rijk van Nijmegen and Land van Meuse en Waal are drawing up a joint Regional Climate Adaptation Strategy.

Cultural heritage and the Delta Programme

The water tasking is a tasking for the future generations. They can draw inspiration from the manner in which previous generations have dealt with water: to them, reckoning with water was a matter of course, as was the utilisation of water for, e.g., land reclamation, energy, and transport. The Handreiking Water, erfgoed en ruimte [Guidelines for Water, heritage, and spatial planning] and the corresponding time line feature concrete examples and show how cultural history can be useful to an integrated approach in taskings involving water.

In the purview of its Visie Erfgoed en Ruimte [Heritage and Spatial Planning Vision], the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) is working on best practices and methods for incorporating cultural history into water-related spatial developments. On account of the preparations for the National Environmental Vision the implementation programme of the Heritage and Spatial Planning Vision has been extended by two years, up to and including 2018. During this period of time the RCE will be focusing on consultation and collaboration with Delta Programme partners in order to disseminate expertise and translate knowledge into practice.

A good example is the study into drainage mill systems in stream valleys, which shows how humans have ingeniously moulded stream valley landscapes to their will, and how such systems operate. From this study, opportunities can be inferred for re-allocating such systems to other purposes, such as combating waterlogging and drought, and improving water quality. The Aa en Meuse district water board will use this study to develop effective ways to use water heritage for water management purposes.  

Another example involves the Marken boven water [Marken above water] studies, that have been conducted as a follow-up to the MIRT Study into multi-layer flood risk management on the island of Marken. The studies show how current habitation is interrelated with the island’s topography, water management, and cultural history, and explain the options for water-resilient new developments and water-resilient restructuring of existing houses in low-lying parts of the island. These options have been combined with aims in the fields of energy, cultural history, the coping capacity of individual residents, habitation requirements, and affordability. Residents and local entrepreneurs have actively weighed in. Several basic models have been elaborated for houses to be constructed on the (new) docks, in which the primary functions and utility connections are located on the first and second floors. Each house has its own power storage, rain water reservoir, and emergency facilities. For the low-lying existing (private) properties, a long-term strategy has been devised which enables occupants to tackle the water-resilience of their houses themselves. A remarkable fact is that all the old housing locations (docks), even those outside the dykes, remain dry during severe downpours. The historical iconic typology can be used as a source of inspiration for the design of new, contemporary and water-aware houses (on pillars), but also for flood risk management and water storage. The study constitutes an example of an approach in which government authorities reflect on sustainable and water-proof area development together with the residents involved.


The spatial adaptation goals call for active and broad-based participation within society, primarily at the local level, among municipalities and district water boards. For that reason, government authorities tend to involve businesses, NGOs, knowledge institutes, educational establishments, and residents in the implementation of the Delta Decision on Spatial Adaptation. This also extends to the national level. For example, in 2016 the Red Cross signed the general Declaration of Intent on spatial adaptation. The public and private signatories to this national agreement – approx. 120 in the spring of 2017 – thus voluntarily enter into an obligation to develop implementation agreements in the period leading up to 2020. In addition to the governments, other parties have also contributed to the interim evaluation of the Delta Decision on Spatial Adaptation, among which are the Dutch Association of Insurers, the association of construction and infra companies Bouwend Nederland, the umbrella organisation in the field of urban water management and sewer systems RIONED, a real estate company, and the association of consulting engineers NLengineers. In the spring of 2017, dozens of NGOs participated in the round table discussions on the Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation.

Representatives of the central government and of regional and local pilots have been involved in the progress report on the Vital and Vulnerable project, in order to discuss its progress and the ambitions. Insurance companies have contributed to a theme-based meeting on insurances in 2017. 

In the Climate Adaptation City Deal, fifteen public partners (among which eight municipalities, five district water boards, a province, and the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment) are collaborating closely with twelve (semi) private partners on spatial adaptation through an open culture of learning, experimentation, and innovation. The goals are set out in a brochure. The main goal is to foster the 2020 goal of the Delta Decision on Spatial Adaptation: presenting best practices with pilot projects, removing obstacles, learning, and exporting. The partners are focusing on multi-layer flood risk management, climate-resilient area development, nature-based solutions, competency development, social initiatives, and international entrepreneurship. The collaborating partners draw up an annual agenda. This City Deal is a component of the Dutch Urban Agenda. Its lessons to be learned are used as input to the Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation.

Interventions are launched at various scale levels and by a host of initiators. For example, in the Dordrecht and Breda Sharing City impact projects, municipalities encourage their residents to make their private space available for climate-proofing and water-resilience in order to turn this into a collective social tasking. Dozens of organisations have joined Operatie Steenbreek, a project aimed at enthusing residents to green their gardens. Rotterdam has constructed several water squares and other municipalities are following suit. Nursing homes are preparing for increasing heat, as recommended by the health authorities.

Operatie Steenbreek

Operatie Steenbreek is a private initiative aimed at encouraging residents to green their (paved) gardens, by disseminating the benefits of green gardens and identifying opportunities for greening. Residents who green their gardens make a significant contribution to the liveability and climate-resilience of their neighbourhoods: private property accounts for some 40 per cent of the urban area. Greening gardens enhances the biodiversity (more birds, insects, and other animals) and reduces waterlogging during severe downpours.  Operatie Steenbreek approaches municipalities who may join for a fee. They are provided with expertise and support to encourage entrepreneurs and residents to initiate greening efforts. Meanwhile, some 40 municipalities have joined, with a potential outreach of four million residents.

  1. Cover letter and Delta Programme Commissioner’s recommendations
  2. Introductory summary
    1. Continuing the work on a sustainable and safe delta
  3. Part I National level
  4. Progress of the Delta Programme
    1. Progress based on Monitoring, Analysing, Acting
    2. General picture of the progress
      1. On schedule
      2. On track
      3. Integrated approach
      4. Participation
      5. Effectiveness of the regions
    3. Progress in flood risk management
    4. Progress in spatial adaptation
    5. Progress in freshwater supply
    6. Embedding, knowledge and innovation, international collaboration
      1. Embedding
      2. Knowledge
      3. Innovation
      4. International efforts
  5. Delta Fund
    1. Developments in the Delta Fund
    2. Resources from other partners
    3. The financial taskings of the Delta Programme
    4. Financial security of the Delta Programme
  6. Part II Regions
  7. Progress per region
    1. IJsselmeer Region/freshwater supply region IJsselmeer Region
    2. Rhine Estuary-Drechtsteden/West-Netherlands freshwater supply region
    3. Rhine/ Area around the major rivers freshwater supply region
    4. Meuse
    5. Southwest Delta/Southwest Delta freshwater supply region
    6. The Coast
    7. Wadden Region
    8. Elevated Sandy Soils South and East
  8. Part III Delta Plans
  9. Delta Plan on Flood Risk Management
    1. Implementation programmes
      1. Flood Protection Programme
      2. Second Flood Protection Programme
      3. Room for the River
      4. Meuse Projects
      5. WaalWeelde
      6. IJsselmeer Closure Dam
      7. Repair of Oosterschelde and Westerschelde stone claddings - Zeeland foreland deposits
    2. River widening in interconnection with dyke improvement
    3. Studies ensuing from knowledge agenda and in regions
  10. Map Flood risk management measures
  11. Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply
    1. Measures to ensure the availability of freshwater in the Netherlands
  12. Map Freshwater supply measures
  13. Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation
    1. Introduction
      1. Justification
      2. Aim and state of affairs of the Delta Plan
      3. Collective realisation
    2. Context
    3. “Analysis, Ambition, Action” – state of affairs
      1. Waterlogging
      2. Heat stress
      3. Drought
      4. Consequences of urban flooding
      5. Current approach
    4. Our intentions: expediting and intensifying
      1. Vision: from the present to 2050
      2. Ambition and strategy
      3. Interim goals
      4. Nationwide governance framework regarding spatial adaptation
      5. Funding
    5. Appendix 1. Action programme
    6. Appendix 2. Outcomes of regional meetings and round table discussions
  14. List of Background Documents
    1. Background documents
  15. Colophon
    1. Colophon content Delta Programme 2018
  16. How to use Delta Programme 2018