Wednesday 22 March 2023

Funding pot for quake-hit Groningen houses emptied on first day

This cafe in Zeerijp has been shored up for years. Photo: Graham Dockery

A €220m funding pot to strengthen homes weakened by gas production in Groningen ran dry on the first day following a flood of applications.

Long queues formed in towns and villages in the northern province on Monday at council offices where people could claim up to €10,000 per household for renovations.

The money is intended to help people in the northern province improve their homes, many of which have been damaged by earth movements caused by 50 years of gas extraction in the Slochteren gas field.

Local liaison body Samenwerkingsverband Noord-Nederland warned at the weekend that the ceiling for subsidies was likely to be reached quickly after a €75 million fund last year was fully allocated within days. A third funding round worth €80 million was also spent on Monday, SNN said.

Production is being wound down in the northern province, but last week residents were hit with a fresh blow when the government said it needed to extract 7.6 billion m3 in 2022, twice as much as expected.

Much of extra gas will be exported to Germany, where around five million homes are connected to the Groningen gas grid, after measures to improve energy efficiency across the border fell short of expectations.

Call for debate

Opposition parties called for the cabinet to extend the compensation package for everyone who was eligible.

‘It’s heartbreaking to see people shivering outdoors in order to claim the €10,000 they’re entitled to,’ said Labour party (PvdA) MP Ed Nijboer.

‘People in Groningen are angry and so am I. It makes no sense … This cabinet should have prevented this misery and I think it’s an embarrassing sight.’

Nijboer and Socialist party (SP) MP Sandra Beckerman have tabled questions in parliament and called for a debate on why more funding is not being made available.

‘The Hague has earned more than €400 billion from gas production but lets people in Groningen compete for money,’ Beckerman said.

‘There was an 83-year-old heart patient in the queue outside … the cabinet wants to raise gas production but literally leaves the victims out in the cold.’

Limited budget

Hans Vijlbrief, who was appointed junior minister for mining on Monday and is responsible for the gas compensation scheme in Groningen, said he would look to see if more money can be made available.

‘There is a budget and it has a limit,’ he said. ‘What I can do is take a good look to see if there is anything else I can do if the budget is in danger of overrunning.’

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