Dr Wil Zonneveld

Wil Zonneveld has recently retired.

Spatial policy is less controlled by governments than in the past and that may have major consequences for the image of European regions. Analysis of such trends is one of the main tasks of Prof. WAM (Wil) Zonneveld, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning.

Neoliberal politics is creating government withdrawals and new market opportunities across Europe. This is reflected in phenomena such as the growing segregation of income groups in cities, but also in the scrapping of rules for building natural landscapes. A Dutch minister recently suggested the latter for the coastal areas, but quickly withdrew the proposal after political and social resistance. “The major challenge is finding cooperation between different actors, in order to maintain a coherent spatial policy,” says Zonneveld. “Otherwise you run the risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

Spatial policy is more important than ever, because major challenges lie ahead. National objectives with regard to climate-neutral construction and energy transition inevitably have an impact on spatial planning. Sea level rise and water management are even more complex issues. How do we meet such challenges if the government takes the lead less than before? It requires an interdisciplinary approach and new partnerships between governments and private parties, Zonneveld notes.

His chair in Spatial Planning and Strategy conducts research into policy and spatial development. Core components of the research are governance and regional, national and European spatial policy. Governance is about the processes, laws and rules that determine how policy is directed and monitored. EU directives determine, among other things, how environmental legislation should be applied. Together they form the frameworks and room for maneuver for the various actors in spatial policy. Governments on their own are no longer decisive for the appearance of spatial planning, nowadays many more actors are involved. The chair examines the sum of decisions and interests underlying policy and formulates policy initiatives on that basis.

Since taking office in 2008, Wil Zonneveld has been involved in a large number of ESPON projects (European Observation Network for Spatial Planning). A major international comparative project on planning systems is currently underway. An important focus of research within the Urban and Regional Planning chair concerns the relationship between spatial design, governance and planning. Three PhD students are currently conducting research on this subject.