Ruling says all races can go ahead on Zandvoort circuit; A blow to environment activists
Nature preservationists and environment organizations have once again lost a lawsuit about the Zandvoort racing circuit. The Council of State rejected the objections they had raised regarding nitrogen emissions calculations which were carried out for their permit to operate in a sensitive nature area. As a result of Wednesday's ruling, all races and events organized at the track can continue.
According to the country's highest administrative court, the Province of North Holland also acted properly in allowing renovation work to be carried out at the circuit. Opponents called it harmful to animal species such as the natterjack toad and the sand lizard.
There is another peculiarity in the case, the Council of State said. Due to a change in the law in 2020, a nature permit for the circuit was no longer necessary. The province must therefore take this point into account when considering new decisions.
The nature permit that was the subject of the case was issued in 2019. The law changed while legal procedures regarding this permit were still pending, which is why, according to the Council, the province should have approached the matter differently. The fact that a nature permit is no longer required has to do with the fact that nitrogen emissions from new activities are not higher than before.
Two organizations found that the calculations about those emissions were improper, specifically Stichting Duinbehoud, which works for conservation of the coastal dunes, and Mobilisation for the Environment (MOB). The Council of State disagreed with them. The administrative court ruled that the 2019 permit is actually slightly stricter than the previous one.
The circuit is located right next to the Kennemerland-Zuid dune area. That area has a protected Natura 2000 status. According to critics, a higher than acceptable nitrogen emissions level has been seeping into the area for years.
The racing circuit said it was pleasantly surprised by the ruling. "The verdict is even more positive for us, because the Council of State has said in so many words that the nature permit we have is not necessary at all," stated circuit director Robert van Overdijk in a response. "We have had to conduct more than 35 proceedings in the past four years and we have always been in the right, so we also looked forward to this case with confidence."
He added that the issue over the nature permit was unexpected, particularly as they applied on time for the permit, and agreed to the terms of the permit. "We were at peace with that and could live with the lower nitrogen ceiling included in it, because our emissions easily stay below that."
The organizations said the legal battle is not over, and they plan to continue to advocate for a more sustainable approach to the region. "It is certain that the circuit will have to change because it causes serious damage to nature," MOB firmly stated.
MOB already said before the ruling that it only concerns the current nature permit. A question that remains in the background, and which has not yet been answered, is whether the circuit can remain the same in the longer term. It is located in a dune area of which a large part has a protected status. They claim that reports about the status of nature in the area show it has had to endure too much nitrogen for years. Race cars and visitors' cars also contribute to this by emitting nitrogen oxides.
Nature organizations are also critical of the noise nuisance caused by driving at the circuit. "The future for the Circuit Park Zandvoort must be sought in the switch from petrol-powered vehicles to electrically powered vehicles," said the Stichting Duinbehoud. Such a switch would "drastically reduce" nitrogen and CO2 emissions and noise pollution, the organization said. It should be possible to make the racing circuit more sustainable in three to five years.
Whether Formula 1 fits into this picture of the future remains to be seen. According to Stichting Duinbehoud, the circuit has "opportunities to profile itself as the most sustainable racing circuit in the world."
Another lawsuit is pending about the circuit's permit, at the court in Haarlem. It is about a request from MOB to the province of Noord-Holland to withdraw the circuit's permit. The province did not want to do that, which prompted the environmental organization to again take the matter to court. A ruling in this case is expected around the turn of the year.
Dozens of lawsuits have already been filed about Zandvoort, always with the outcome that the circuit could remain open and continue to organize races. Apart from the lawsuits, the Stichting Duinbehoud pointed out that the province has the scope to reassess whether a race track "in the middle of a protected nature reserve is permissible".
The province is now pressing forward, though it does not necessarily have to leave everything as it was. For example, the chair of the Administrative Jurisdiction Division made it clear that the province itself has the freedom to opt for better nature conservation, but that policy is not mandatory. In the meantime, the nature permit, which was not actually necessary, will remain in effect. This will be done "for the sake of legal certainty."
Circuit director Van Overdijk said he is now looking towards the next edition of the Dutch Grand Prix Formula 1 race in Zandvoort, scheduled from August 25 to 27. The circuit expects another 315,000 visitors in three days. "The first grandstands for 89,000 extra seats are already in place. The circuit will close at the end of July and then we will be working here full-time for 4 weeks on the construction."
The Formula 1 spectacle is the most important race of the year at the racing circuit. The previous two editions were won by Max Verstappen.
Reporting by ANP