Cold and old? Amsterdam pledges to help listed homes go green

Old buildings don't need to be cold buildings Photo: Amsterdam Municipal Department for the Preservation and Restoration of Historic Buildings and Sites via Wikipedia

Amsterdam is making it easier to bring historic homes and buildings closer to modern standards for insulation and safety with a new “sustainable heritage” policy.

Alexander Scholtes, city chief for listed buildings and heritage, said in a press statement that Amsterdam wants to make it possible to insulate its old building stock in a responsible way.

“We are working to have fewer rules, quicker procedures and more guidance for owners, but always with respect for the cultural and historical value of these buildings,” he said.

Amsterdam has a canal belt with Unesco World Heritage site status, almost 10,000 Grade A listed buildings and 15 areas with protected frontages.

In previous years, owners have complained about the prohibitive procedures required to repair old buildings and improve poor insulation in Amsterdam. According to a Dutch News freedom of information request, one in eight planning requests for new windows in 2021, for instance, was either refused or abandoned, and three people had to take legal action against the municipality to win permission.

Following the example of more progressive cities such as Leiden, which offers a “helping hand” approach to owners who want to improve sustainability in old buildings, Amsterdam has said that it will update its rules.

Solar panels will be possible on all rooftops in listed buildings – including those on open view – it will be easier to install a green roof or green wall “to combat heat stress and water nuisance” and an advisory office will be expanded. Councillors have also voted to make it possible for monument owners to install special, thin double glazing in existing frames, without needing planning permission.

Nienke van Renssen, a councillor for the green GroenLinks party, said the party has long advocated a more modern approach to housing, including environmental needs. “When it comes to improving the houses of Amsterdam, we should enable measures to stop climate change and tackle the energy crisis, [while] preserving the monumental values,” she said. “Too many citizens have seen their sustainability plans rejected: we need to rethink the balance of the public interests.”

Juliet Broersen, a councillor for Volt, has campaigned on safety issues around single glazing after 22-year-old Amsterdammer Seb Waterreus fell to his death in 2021. “This new policy agenda will accelerate the energy transition, which is crucial,” she said.

“Making it simpler to get planning permission for window insulation or double glazing isn’t just good for the environment and people’s energy bills but it also makes homes safer – and every Amsterdammer deserves a safe home.” She added that she believes it should also be possible to install safety bars or similar modifications on monumental buildings to protect people from falling.

The Netherlands is relatively unusual in having a large domestic housing stock that is designated “grade A” listed and subject to the most stringent controls. Amsterdam council is currently in breach of the law because not all of its offices are insulated to energy level C, and it has recently postponed its own sustainability targets for its complex and listed buildings.

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