Just a few short years ago Kees Wassenaar, councillor of the Leiderdorp district would never have thought that a regional cooperation through Economie071 could have borne so much fruit. But he further warns that the region should not fail because of that success; new solutions are needed for the slow decision-making processes apparent in the districts.
“As a council member I have had Economic Affairs in my portfolio since 2014. In the beginning I thought that we as a district could achieve much independently. But during recent years I have not met any businesses that looked solely at our district. They all look at the bigger picture of the entire region.
That brought me to the realization that cooperation would take us further. Especially for strategic matters such as accessibility and employment you definitely need other partners.
We are also increasingly forced to work together by the government. The youth care for example is complex. Being a district with only 27,000 inhabitants, we are not always able to address complex issues. Districts need to coordinate their policies because every decision made in Leiden affects Leiderdorp and vice versa. The world does not end at Stierenbrug.”
“Regional economic cooperation is urgent for ourselves. Take a look at the vacancies at the home and garden boulevard and in the shopping centres. We are looking for suitable reassignments whereby we do not want to work against each other in the region.
Now that we have decided upon the retail vision, we have to put this into practise: how much square metres of shopping space should we give up and where? That is a complicated discussion which extends far beyond the interests of shop owners. The buildings are often owned by real estate entrepreneurs who want be assured.
A big question is how the shop locations will be easily accessible; and what will it mean for the quality of life for residents if the retail in the neighbourhood is reduced. As partners we have taken responsibility for finding solutions.”
“Also thanks to Economie071 we think beyond just our own district. If there is no more space available at the Leiden Bio Science Park, spin-off businesses could locate at the care boulevard in Leiderdorp or in the vitality centre. Physical distance has taken on a new meaning in the world full of digital networks.
If a shopping centre needs a specific branch expansion to make the location more attractive, then we will make that possible together within the region. For example, not only do we want hospitality to be a supporting function at the home and garden boulevard in Leiderdorp, but also hospitality that offers an experience so that visitors stay longer.
If we agree upon this mutually, then we will have a stronger strategic position in the direction of the province and nationwide in general. That makes the chances of actually realising it much greater.”
“We began the Retail Vision in 2013. The adoptions of the vision by all of the districts was a milestone, but the entire process has taken far too long. I have grown grey hair because of this. The decision-making process not only takes a lot of time, but causes friction. If all of the districts have voted for the Retail Vision and Leiden not, then Leiden feels pressured to do so.
Do not forget that we have to groom things internally and communicate intensively with the district council. Obviously; the council members are in charge. But business and industry have had to wait a long time for the district councils to decide.”
“Entrepreneurs think big and ask more or less for a merger of the districts. It is particularly difficult when this concerns better accessibility or the closure of a business park and so many districts want to express their opinion.
We as districts could act with greater strength if there were a new form of government. There are various possibilities for this, such as a merger or the transfer of power to a new body, as in the Drechtsteden. In this way an extra governmental layer is formed, but there are fewer circuits to discuss everything. We must find a more convenient method for the decision-making process. Continuing in the current way is not future-proof.”
Thinking in Opportunities
“We want to become a sort of Silicon Valley in the field of vitality and care because that is a promising way of presenting ourselves. We are therefore looking within Economie071 at possibilities for a business economy model. I envision a business model that relates to the care boulevard in Leiderdorp. There are several ideas for this so I hope that a fruitful project comes out of it. At the moment it is difficult to make it more concrete. Sometimes you have to stick your neck out in order to achieve innovation.”
Dynamics at work
“The regional cooperation is primarily about having confidence that each district makes decisions that are also good for the region. That confidence is present. Not only does Zoeterwoude consider the open areas to be of great value, the other districts believe that too.
With Economie071 we have achieved tangible results with the Expat Centre and the Retail Vision. I see dynamics at work in the region. Five years again I would not have thought that was possible.