The Monuments and Historic Buildings Act 1988 defines conservation areas as ‘groups of immovable objects which are of public interest because of their beauty, their spatial and structural coherence or their cultural and historical value and which include at least one monument’. There are currently some 440 conservation areas in the Netherlands.
When is an area historically important? An area can grow in historical importance over the centuries, like the historic centres of Leiden and Sneek. Or it can be designed in a way that makes it historically important, like the mining villages of Zuid-Limburg or the grand residential neighbourhoods of the Gooi region. The industrial landscape of Koningin Wilhelminahaven docks in Vlaardingen is also so important that it is eligible for protection.
The State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science and the Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment can give an important area national scheduled urban conservation area status to safeguard its historical character both now and in the future. Protection is guaranteed by the zoning plan that the local authority draws up once the area has been designated. Areas are designated by period. The government is currently completing its designation of areas from the period 1850-1940.
The protection of an urban conservation area is concerned with its historic structure. This means that new buildings can be constructed, and buildings may change use, provided the new use is consistent with the traditional character of the area.
Protection of conservation areas and protection of objects can be complementary, but one cannot substitute for the other. Urban conservation area status focuses on the characteristic urban structure of an area, and is designed to ensure it can continue to function in the same way in the future. Protection of objects is designed to safeguard the architectural appearance and the authenticity of the materials.
No grant schemes are available for conservation areas.