Questioning the ideal of policy integration: The influence of environmental assessments on achieving policy integration through the development of municipal Environmental Visions in the Netherlands
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Planners and policy-makers around the world are implementing an integrated approach to tackle contemporary cross-cutting urban challenges. The Dutch are doing this as well by drastically changing their planning and environmental policy system with the new integrated Environment and Planning Act (EPA). The EPA obligates all levels of government to develop an Environmental Vision which includes and integrates all spatial and environmental objectives and ambitions for the upcoming 20-30 years. The Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment (NCEA) obligates all governments to conduct an environmental assessment (EA) on these visions. However, there has been recent debate on the role and effect of EA as a tool for enabling policy integration. Therefore, this study means to research to what extent EA (applied as part of integrated policy-making processes) helps Dutch municipalities to agree an Environmental Vision. This research focused on two case studies in the Netherlands: the municipality of Lisse and the municipality of Doetinchem. Through document analyses and interviews, this research has found that EA processes can have an effect on the development process of Environmental Visions. EA provides in-depth research, helps with formulating clear ambitions, maintains a clear planning process and structure, and offers independent advice and unbiased expertise. However, the research also showed that EA lacks in legal power, highly depends on the quality of the financial and informational inputs, and differs in effectiveness based on its entry point in the process. This research showed that EA helps to agree a municipal Environmental Vision and thus helps to enable integrated policy-making in the Netherlands. However, its effect depends on the political and financial context and its perceived purpose in the overall process of policy integration.