Interview with Ton Stam and Claudia Umlauf (Municipality of Laren)

Before Article

foto van Roel WeverTon Stam – Municipal Executive member of the Municipality of Laren – has Sustainability and the Environment in his portfolio. Roel Wever, partner at CFP, spoke with Ton Stam and Claudia Umlauf (Sustainability Project Manager) about their own sustainability task and the energy transition.

Sustainability is of course a very broad concept and according to Ton it should be one of the ‘forbidden’ words, because it is used far too often. In Laren, sustainability is of course about buildings, but also about collecting heavy rainfall, mobility and the greenery in the municipality, such as common land and heathland (Goois Nature Reserve).

Climate agreement sceptic

When we talk about the municipality’s real estate, we are talking about its own public real estate, including the fire station, the swimming pool and, of course, the town hall, the oldest part of which was built in 1913. The other real estate within the municipal boundaries consists mainly of houses and a number of business premises. What is immediately striking in the conversation is that Ton is not a climate sceptic, but refers to himself as a ‘climate agreement sceptic’. While it’s true that something needs to be done, how it should be done is not yet sufficiently clear in his opinion. He therefore wonders if the national government has considered how to translate the climate agreement to his municipality and to its inhabitants.

Support and technology are still insufficient

Raam van monumentaal pandTon outlines the challenge of ensuring that Laren, with mostly older, sometimes historic buildings and farmhouses in its centre, becomes gas-free. “Is the technology available to provide a farmhouse in the centre of the village with a heat pump? At a cost acceptable to the occupant? And are we going to enforce it? I don’t see that happening yet,” says Ton. According to him, there is a lack of support among residents to make great strides in this direction. He therefore favours smaller steps, such as starting an insulation programme. Making a house gas-free with a payback period of 30 years is often longer than a resident’s horizon, which does not result in a profitable business case, says Ton. Are there no solutions at all? I ask. Certainly, but affordability and financing really deserve more focus.

Laren was at the forefront of the ideas and plans for object-related financing by means of the betterment levy. That in itself is a very good idea, but the details are not, or hardly, ever addressed at national level. Plans will have to be drawn up in The Hague to implement these specific ideas in practice. For example, we would like to talk to ‘Mr Ordinary’ in Laren to start working with him without him having to worry about an interim sale of his home.

– Ton Stam, Municipal Executive member

Municipality of Laren’s approach

When I ask about the municipality’s sustainable ambitions, he reflects for a while. And then says: “Laren takes a cautious approach to its own real estate”. Ton refers to the climate agreement and the goals for 2030 and 2050. These are very ambitious and he wonders how we will achieve them. The Association of Netherlands Municipalities (Vereniging Nederlandse Gemeenten) has not imposed any hard targets. However, process agreements have been made. Such as drawing up a roadmap for public real estate and a neighbourhood approach to be completed by 2022. This should include alternatives to natural gas.


Sustainable initiatives

Several initiatives have now been taken that make Laren more sustainable. For example, Laren started the ‘Laren rain-ready’ project as early as 2015, after heavy rainfall that flooded the centre of the village. The aim is to collect rainwater where possible on site and to disconnect it from the sewer system, thereby limiting damage (and therefore costs) for residents and businesses.
Furthermore, Laren is not opting for large sustainability programmes, but the approach is to first list possibilities and impossibilities. Specifically, this means: mapping out the villages own real estate and obtaining insight into the specific buildings. Examples include the town hall, the swimming pool, a day-care centre and the fire station. Scenarios are currently being worked out for each object in order to be able to make the right choices for each building. The possible measures are then linked to the planned maintenance and included in an implementation plan. “So that’s what we’re going to do in the next few years, because we want to set a good example.”

Insight as a starting point

Claudia Umlauf is the Laren sustainability project manager and I asked her about her approach. The municipality, together with the other partners in the municipal BEL Combination (Blaricum, Eemnes and Laren), obtains an initial insight using the Public Real Estate Scan. This is an online tool has made available by BNG Bank to all municipalities in the Netherlands. “This online tool is part of our project approach to make our own real estate more sustainable”, adds Claudia as project leader for BEL Combination. “This tool allows us to identify the opportunities and to determine the biggest consumers. We can also measure the effect of energy-saving measures on consumption. In addition to the online Real Estate Scan, we had energy scans performed on site at the swimming pool and the town hall. It turned out that we could save € 50,000 annually in energy costs for the swimming pool and € 100,000 for the town hall. That’s very interesting, don’t you think?”

I advise every town to start with obtaining an insight. Map out the real estate, for example using the BNG Bank tool, in order to gain insight and an overview of the possibilities per property. Then proceed to adopt specific measures, possibly in combination with maintenance.


– Claudia Umlauf, Laren sustainability project manager

Results so far

What have been the measures and results in the field of sustainability in Laren so far? That’s what I want to know, of course. Investments are now being made in LED lighting for the sports clubs and an entirely new and sustainable clubhouse will be built for the local SV Laren ’99 football club with the help of the municipality. It has been agreed with the housing corporation to move to labels B and A by first introducing insulation and then gradually improving the houses in other ways.
In addition, Laren, together with Gooise Meren and Hilversum, has purchased the land from the former military site Crailo. An energy-positive residential area will be built here. This will be the most sustainable district in the Netherlands and also a circular district where the landscape comes first. In the meantime, you can visit the Groene Afslag. A sustainable hub and social enterprise, an inspiring place. Also suitable for a cup of coffee, lunch or a flexible workspace.

Laren in 2030

If I ask where Laren would stand if we were to speak again in 2030, Ton is clear about his top 5:

  1. We would have made our own real estate more sustainable, wherever possible and economically sound.
  2. The housing corporations would have increased their stock to at least an average energy label B.
  3. There would be a fast cycle track to tempt people to leave the car at home.
  4. Laren would be as green as it is now, with the many trees and common land. Just like the splendid Goois Nature Reserve.
  5. Crailo would then have been developed but, hopefully, would no longer be the only most sustainable district in the Netherlands.

“But would we be gas-free by 2030? That remains a question that I hesitate to answer with YES”, adds Ton.

Advice for the future

Europese vlag

Finally, I ask for his outlook and advice on what he thinks we can or should do now and in the near future. He’s clear about that, too:
Firstly: Make agreements at European level, so that the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and France are all moving in the same direction. So that one country does not go gas-free while another country is investing in gas.

The politicians in The Hague should pursue a more consistent policy, so that people can invest in the long term. Do not always change direction (as was the case with the netting scheme for tax purposes). Opt for an approach that is appropriate for the residents and do not just communicate about objectives in abstract terms, but agree a specific approach that can be implemented by everyone.
Furthermore, we still have work to do to catch up. Not only with regard to implementation, but also as regards knowledge and innovation. Because that’s Ton’s final advice:
Do not use the investment fund currently planned to invest in measures themselves. Let the market do its work. But invest in knowledge via universities and colleges of higher education and in innovative companies and projects. That’s where the innovation has to emerge that we can apply and export in the Netherlands. “Just like our knowledge of water management since the delta works project, which would be my ideal picture. So that with our knowledge of buildings, products and innovations, we can contribute to the global sustainability and energy transition!”

And that’s something I couldn’t agree to more. I thank Ton and Claudia for the discussion and we agree to meet again in 2030.

Roel Wever, CFP Green Buildings

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