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Webinar 'Solid ground for Groningen'

On June 26, 2020, the Knowledge Platform Leefbaar and Kansrijk Groningen, together with the Knowledge Platform Building and Strengthening, organized the webinar 'Solid ground for Groningen'. From the studio of Stadslab Groningen, table host Janine Abbring led the 150 viewers through the state of affairs in Groningen gas extraction case. Scientific director of the Knowledge Platform Leefbaar and Kansrijk Groningen, Tom Postmes, discussed the current situation with the director of BuildinG Rolf Koops.

Originally a recorded speech by Minister Ollongren was on the agenda, but unfortunately she had to cancel. The text of her speech has been shared with us. Rolf Koops: 'The minister is full of praise for Groningers who take matters into their own hands and also make plans on their own initiative to strengthen their homes and villages. That is very positive.' Tom Postmes: 'safety first has always been the motto, the motto of Kamp, the motto of Wiebes, and now the motto is  explicitly stated: safety and clarity.'


The Critical Review by Derksen and Gebben, which was published early at the request of the minister, was frequently discussed (Read the Critical Review here). The contrast between where Groningen is, in the swamp of institutions and regulations, and the solid ground it needs to get out of this crisis could hardly be greater, says Janine Abbring.


Speaking about the reinforcement tasking and how the models used (such as the Dutch Practice Guideline and the Hazard and Risk Assessment) have become an unfiltered part of the policy, Koops said: “It is a technocratic reality that makes sense on paper, but which is socially unacceptable in my view.” Tom Postmes answers a question about how he expects the reinforcements to go according to plan: “It is crucial to learn to have trust in each other, especially between all those institutions, it is all about the trust of the Groninger in The Hague, but I think that is less important.”


In a table discussion about the future of Groningen with Reinalda Start of the NOS (also co-author of the book De Gaskolonie), Herman Rinket of the Gasberaad and Adriaan Geuze of the architectural firm West8, and involved in the Toukomst program, Start first refers to the website Het Verdwenen. Groningen where all the buildings that have been demolished for gas extraction are located. "Then you see houses disappear that are Groningen to me, you shouldn't want that either, it is also a very bad idea that all those houses should be demolished because they are not strong enough and cannot be reinforced." After questioning Abbring, Start added: "The question is not whether they cannot be reinforced, but they are too expensive to reinforce, they are actually a total loss, they are not economically worth strengthening."


Rinket, himself a resident and entrepreneur in Loppersum, brings another aspect to light: “As an entrepreneur you fall outside most regulations. Most things that are provided for residents and not for entrepreneurs. There are few or no regulations that have to do with your business operations when everything has to be taken up again for reinforcement but also for damage repair.” When asked what he sees at other businesses in the area, Rinket said: "If you have a business where you have staff working, you should keep in mind that if you know that serious damage has occurred to your property due to an earthquake that you are actually not allowed to let your staff work in that company.”

Adriaan Geuze indicates that Groningen's problems are complex and layered: "There is a longer tradition of not understanding each other, not listening and feeling disadvantaged." Yet he is not pessimistic about the possibilities for the future of Groningen. “We are going to spend half of our time with Hanze University students and RUG students to explicitly announce us to the youth, because we want to talk to you: Where do you live? What is going on in your community?” This has resulted in a reflection on the relationships, contradictions and hope in the communities through role play.


In the meantime, Toukomst is in the process of bundling the submitted suggestions and analyzing what is feasible and what is not. “We will introduce that to a panel, a citizens' panel, which will have sensible discussions about it and make decisions in the hierarchy and how the money is spent. That is a form of self-governance (self-government ed.), not giving up, so people who are part of the society of Groningen, who have a social function, they are going to talk about it, which is of course also very good because also brings reconciliation, bridges are built there.” What is now happening in Groningen within the framework of Toukomst is quite unique. Geuze: "It's all a mess and we have to mess in the right direction and we have to hold on to each other, we have to try to achieve that atmosphere."


Talking about the complexity of the case and the complex political game that is played to please the interests of the government, the NAM and the people of Groningen, Rinket observes: “The further in time we get, the safer, everyone shouts. want to say something about it. Yes, in numbers, but security isn't just a house standing up for those ten minutes to get out. Safety is also for people who don't have to worry about raising their children who only know these kinds of things.” Referring to the strong earthquake of 3.5 near Westeremden in 2006, Rinket said: “Generations of children were born and left home in a time when there was always misery, insecurity, uncertainty, and the like. That is something you should be terribly ashamed of if you, as a politically responsible and economically responsible, keep putting it off.” Reinalda Start blames the knowledge institutions that they paid too little attention to this at the time. It has only been since the Huizinge earthquake in 2012 that greater national attention has been sought from Groningen for the problem.

Looking at the future of Groningen, the Toukomst program offers perspective. The first batch of ideas has now been compiled into roughly 50 bundles, and these will soon be linked together. For example, there are many ideas about education and the connection to the labor market through internships and vocational schools. There were also more than 400 suggestions about the landscape, which should be greener, more beautiful and with more space for water. In addition, there were many ideas about tourism as a new pillar of the region's existence. Geuze: "There are so many initiatives about landscape and living environment, really so many, that we want to shout out 'please note that the quality of life is explicitly linked to these kinds of domains by the Groningers themselves who have participated in this project.' Maybe you should make a local service, what used to be called the land development service, that verifies and improves that landscape that you name and the canals, the banks, the biodiversity and the habitat of the village in all plans in all implementation projects ." Geuze further notes that Groningers and administrators like to see improvements quickly, but for plans such as education, it can take up to 10 years before it pays off. Janine Abbring concludes with the fair comment that having a long breath is not an unnecessary luxury in Groningen.

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