Newsletter: Room for golden promises and green forests

May 24, 2017

The Conference at Christiansborg showed a wide support for the recommendations presented by The Danish Board of Technology Foundation in their report on prioritizing and planning the future land use in Denmark.

By Ebbe Riis

The Danish Board of Technology Foundation’s project ‘Prioritizing the future land use in Denmark’ has come to an end after two and a half years of hard work. “It is time to discuss how we turn these recommendations into a reality,” said the vice-president of the Environment and Food Committee, Lea Wermelin (S) when she opened the final conference at Christiansborg on the 3rd of May. This conference showed a wide agreement on many of the recommendations, a few of which were:

  • A strong governmental involvement in the overall prioritization and strategic planning. This applies to e.g. the national interests with regard to the placement of wind mills, afforestation, coherent areas of nature and climate adaption across municipal borders.
  • In the future, most areas should be used for several different purposes simultaneously. A differentiated planning in municipalities, based on local dialogue, could clear the way for uniting the great many interests.
  • Comprehensive redistribution of land is a suitable tool for solving local conflicts of interest and at the same time securing sturdy agricultural holdings, nature resorts, recreational areas and areas of development for the future.
  • There is a need to strengthen the process by a revision of the legislation and subsidies and making sure that the municipalities have the necessary authorization for creating a plan based on the entirety.

In addition to this, the conference showed general approval of the suggestion to establish an Area and Plans commission which would be responsible for suggesting new models for future planning.

 

The municipalities as work

Four mayors and seven members of the Danish Parliament participated in a politicians’ panel at the conference. The four mayors were Iver Enevoldsen (V) from Ringkøbing-Skjern municipality, Winni Grosbøll (S) from Bornholm, Peder Chr. Kirkegaard (V) from Skive and Lars Erik Hornemann (V) from Svendborg. They all agreed that the available areas are under a great amount of pressure and that solutions must be made across sectors and municipal borders in order to be as optimal as possible.

Furthermore, they all confirmed the need for the distribution of land and coherent nature resorts. They seconded the wish for a stronger level of engagement from the government, a revision of laws and rules as well as a strengthening of local agents.

”We are already working on several of these recommendations,” said Iver Enevoldsen (V), mayor of Ringkøbing-Skjern municipality. “My hometown Hvide Sande has a big and well-functioning industrial harbor. There are a great number of tourists in the area as well and we have three big wind wills. We have actually succeeded in uniting the different interests.” Another example of this is the new nature district in Ringkøbing K, where housings are scattered amongst meadows, groves with fruit trees and lakes spread over 84 hectares. “Coherent nature resorts are vital. We know that citizens focus on this when they decide where to take up residence,” Enevoldsen added.

With regard to energy, Iver Enevoldsen agrees that we should focus on the residual products of agriculture. “We have given several biogas facility permissions. I have noticed a tendency to focus on wind mills placed on land as well. If you join us in the countryside you will notice that it’s not so easy.”

 

The Government must assert itself

“This report hits right at home when it comes to the current debate of our little island-community,” said the mayor of Bornholm, Winni Grosbøll (S). The 600 square kilometers of the island is “a lot too little” in comparison to the numerous ambitions of a fossil-free energy supply, that 20% of all farming should be  organic by 2015, bigger and more accessible nature resorts, a strengthening of tourism and outdoor-experiences and new areas made available for summer houses and city development.

”Actually, I’m very confident that we are capable of protecting our nature and where we live on our own, but there are some societal tasks that require the government to step up and resume responsibility for the planning,” she said and went on to mention wind mills as her first example: people do want renewable energy, just not in the form of wind mills in their own backyard. “If wind power is to be stepped up, then decisions on where to place the additional wind mills have to be made at Christiansborg. We are simply not able to solve it locally. We would like to and it’s not that we are afraid to do so – it’s simply not possible.”

Something similar can be said of afforestation, Winni Grosbøll added. “We have this dream of an unbroken forest belt all the way from Hammerknuden to the southern tip of Bornholm. However, the conflict is whether we should protect the interest of an unbroken forest belt or the agricultural land scattered in small patches here and there in-between. It is my recommendation that decisions on when and where the interest in afforestation is strong enough to warrant a dictation should be made at a national level. Christiansborg have to realize that it will not happen on its own.”

Winni Grosbøll supported a fund for the distribution of land. “It is very difficult to create coherent nature resorts with private plot owners if you don’t have the funds to buy their land. In my experience, the puzzle does not add up if it’s not a public assignment.”

 

Possibilities should be co-thought

“There is no doubt that our available areas are under great pressure at present. That is why we have to think crosswise and in terms of several possibilities within the solutions we come up with,” said Peder Christian Kirkegaard (V), mayor of Skive.

Skive is a part of a project in which multi-functional distribution of land is being tested. “I see a number of great tools and options in this project because we make the different interests find joint solutions. As such, we manage to create the necessary areas for agriculture, green corridors, for nature and leisure time activities and maybe a road around the village in order to prevent the agricultural productions from having to pass through it. It is a tool for the optimal utilization of our areas,” said Peder Christian Kirkegaard.

Kirkegaard added, that in order to avert the risks of great flood damages in the cities, it would be economically wise to suspend the primary operation of some farmlands and contain the water from small rivers in new wetlands. “I think that supply companies should have the option of making agreements and perhaps even of buying up land outside their own geographic area in order to avoid too much water in their sewage system.”

He struck a blow for a joint solution on climate adaption for the Limfjord, focused on securing it against still more powerful storms. “All the municipalities surrounding the Limfjord are facing colossal investments in order to safeguard against floods. One joint solution that could prevent the west wind from pressing large amounts of water into the Limfjord is financially speaking the most practicable solution, and for securing nature and environment as well.”

 

Why not buy an island?

The mayor of Svendborg municipality, Lars Erik Hornemann (V) emphasized the importance of compensation for the plot owners as they otherwise would not partake in the solutions which are in the interests of society. “You truly find yourself at the very top of Marlow’s Hierarchy of needs when you want to use the amazing Danish farmlands for something which does not immediately return interests,” he noted.

“Why haven’t you included the reclamation of land in your recommendations? By using projecting dams you could recover areas which could be used for climate adaption, new nature resorts or wind mills and solar cells.”

He acknowledged the need for an extended distribution of land and funds for buying up land. “We have purchased a few areas that fit nicely into some natural areas but our options are really rather limited. If we had more horsepower in terms of economy, we might act in higher accordance with long-term interests and pay greater attention to properties that match the planning and might be used in later distribution of lands.”

One concrete suggestion was that Svendborg and Langeland municipalities should buy Siø, an island between Tåsinge and Langeland and use it for wind mills and solar cells that usually meet with great resistance. “It would require a fund and legal authority to do this, as well as thinking across municipal borders,” added Hornemann.

 

Large scale distribution of land

Members of the steering committee of this project participated in a panel of interviewers who presented its results and asked questions of mayor and members of the Danish Parliament.

The distribution of land and funds for buying up land was accentuated as a suitable tool because the methods are built on negotiations, agreements and the fact that several partners might satisfy their wishes by exchanging land. Contrary to subsidies, distribution of land is a permanent solution when robust agricultural districts, coherent nature resorts, protection of groundwater, climate adaption, traffic management and so on are to be established.

“I see quite a few possibilities for synergy and multi-functionality and we politicians should pay close attention to the work on creating a better distribution of land. However, it is very important to include the plot owners. If we cannot secure them the opportunity for future development, then we stand in the way of them joining the collaboration,” said Anni Matthiesen (V). “It requires both educational and economic competences for it to succeed and the better question is where we are to find the money for those who need compensation.”

“It is a thought that needs to be brought to the attention of the municipal council. Once it has begun, it’s my impression that it doesn’t have to be all that expensive,” said Jens Henrik Thuelsen Dahl (DF).

 

Inspection of the laws

The project suggests the establishment of an Area and Plans Commission which would be responsible for suggesting legislative amendments as well as creating new and more modern models for a differentiated planning of the open land, focused on the entirety. The suggestions of this commission must be ready when The Planning Act is evaluated in 2020 and they should help clear the way for more multi-functionality in the land use.

This suggestion was widely endorsed. “There is no doubt that we need to adjust the laws and rules, and create a system that is simple and flexible for the municipalities. It should offer them the best possible tools for uniting the different interests but at the same time secure the overall whole in order to avoid any local interests leading to the approval of decisions that are not in the interest of the unity,” said Jens Henrik Thuelsen Dahl (DF).

Maria Gjerding (EL) attached great importance to the national political tasks: One joint national strategy as opposed to sectorial plans that use much more than the Danish areas available, planning a Green Map of Denmark, areas of agriculture, decisions on where to secure the coastlines and where nature should run its course. “However, the recommendations also state that municipalities should be given the freedom to prioritize the use of their own areas. That is a conflict that needs solving.”

 

Forest policy and subsidies

The shifting governments have all had ambitious objectives on afforestation, and the forests are well-suited to satisfy many different wishes in one single area. Christians Rabjerg Madsen (S) was asked if we can expect more specific political statements on the balance between the production of lumber and energy, biodiversity and outdoor life.

He answered, “I am careful about promising how much forest will be established. It is expensive, as you well know. But, we do need a more detailed description of the forests we have and a more focused objective for how it should be used in order to make the most of its many functions”.

Carsten Bach (LA) was asked if subsidies for furthering the environment, nature protection and afforestation should be more flexible. “Actually, I’d prefer to abolish all subsidies but the short answer is, yes. First and foremost, there should be increased local self-determination.  The power elite at the Castle Islet should stay out of it. The local politicians need to call attention to the fact that they are able to handle it on their own.”

 

Support for the energy production

In this project it was indicated that support for the placement of wind mills and other energy plants can be strengthened if there is a local strategy for renewable energy and the local population co-own the energy plants.

“We need to reestablish local ownership, for solar cells and co-owned plants too. If people feel like they are a part of the readjustment, they tend to experience a much greater sense of goodwill towards having both wind mills and other energy plants close by,” said Christian Poll (ALT).

Maria Cjerding agreed. “If wind mills on land can contribute to the economy of the local community and it’s not just some big energy company who is making a profit then it would secure a greater support altogether.”

Iver Enevoldsen did not agree with this: “As it is, 20% of a wind mill park must be offered to the local area. It is true that sometimes the line of thinking is linked straight from head to wallet, but to say no to wind mills if the investor is an external partner would seem like abuse of power if you ask me. The municipality is an authority when it comes to planning. If is approves a certain area for wind mills then that applies whether it is locally or externally owned.”