Dutch shelve billion-euro projects as EU nitrogen rules bite

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Around 18,000 building projects in the Netherlands, worth billions of euros, risk being shelved due to a recent court order on nitrogen emissions, the Dutch government said on Friday.

The country’s highest court in May ruled that the way Dutch builders and farmers dealt with nitrogen emissions was in breach with European laws.

This has already caused delays in work on new highways, housing blocks, airports, wind farms and a range of other vital infrastructure in recent months, while many other projects are also at risk.

The projects have a combined worth of around 14 billion euros ($15.5 billion), according to calculations by Dutch bank ABN Amro.

“This is a huge problem, for which no easy solution exists,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday. “We don’t have it under control yet.”

Nitrogen emissions, which in large quantities threaten specific types of plants and the animals that feed on them, are relatively high in the small, but densely populated Netherlands - home to important industries and a large agricultural sector.

In recent years permits were granted to builders and farmers based on their promises to mitigate nitrogen in nature reserves after projects were finished.

But the court put an end to this, as European rules state that compensation must be guaranteed before building near nature reserves - which in the tiny Netherlands is almost everywhere.

An expert committee is expected to come up with solutions to break the deadlock later this month.

Politicians have hinted at various contentious options, from reducing speed limits on Dutch roads to minimizing livestock on farms.

“All options are on the table, without any taboos,” Rutte said. “But we cannot end this with any grand gesture, we will need a range of measures.”

Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Giles Elgood