A.M. van Maarschalkerweerd , pp. 83. DSN/School of Planning and Media Design, 2011.
Rural areas are characterized by changing developments rather caused by processes or trends that occur in society (urban as well as rural environment). The mobility of people is increasing, including commuting, migration, tourism and recreation. Moreover, rural areas are characterized by a more and more urban character. This change in the rural landscape in turn affects out-migration and in-migration. Young people are migrating out of the rural areas; whereas a new group of (pre-) retirees are moving in some rural areas. Nevertheless, there is an implicit recognition by researchers that rural outmigration continuous and that depopulation will remain in the rural areas.
Population decline entails a lot of new developments; the changing age structure and migration has direct consequences for the labour supply, education and facilities. Due to decrease in the demand for facilities, e.g. shops and hospitals close down. Moreover, due to the ageing population, the housing demand is changing. Therefore, several action plans are formulated by governments to respond on the population decline in the affected areas.
This thesis is an elaboration of population decline in the rural areas of the Netherlands by a case study analysis of Zeeuws Vlaanderen. Within the thesis the characteristics of population decline in Zeeuws Vlaanderen are examined by analysing the current situation within the region and an analysis of the planning documents. The next question therefore is central in the thesis:
How is population decline addressed in planning documents in the declining rural areas of the Netherlands?
On a regional level Zeeuws Vlaanderen is characterized by a stagnating population with an ageing population and young adults moving out of the region. While on a municipal level, the municipalities of Sluis and Terneuzen are characterized by a decline, the municipality of Hulst is characterized by stagnation.
In order to understand how population decline is addressed in the planning documents. The planning documents regarding population decline in Zeeuws Vlaanderen are elaborated by a qualitative content analysis. The main findings of the analysis of the planning documents are that population decline is addressed on a regional level and therefore the differences between the municipalities and thus the current situation are not taken into account in the planning documents. Moreover, the documents are focused on prognoses instead the current situation (planners’ approach).
The conclusion of the thesis therefore is that although consequences and measures of population decline are addressed in the planning documents, there is a discrepancy between the current population decline in Zeeuws Vlaanderen and the population decline addressed in the planning documents
Furthermore, this discrepancy between the planning documents and the current situation can be explained, by the Dutch planning system. This planning system is based on providing guidelines in a top down system and therefore suggests that the local level is waiting for guidelines on provincial level and the provincial level is waiting for the guidelines from the national level.