A New Integrated Heritage Act for the Netherlands

On the first of July 2016 a new Heritage Act (Erfgoedwet) has been implemented in the Netherlands. The conservation and management of Dutch cultural heritage was previously governed by various specific acts and sets of regulations. These were the Regulations on Material Management of Museum Objects, the National Museum Services Act, the Monuments and Historic Buildings Act 1988, the Heritage Preservation Act, the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property Act, and the Cultural Property Originating from Occupied Territory Act. These sectoral statutory regimes have been established over the course of time, with each type of heritage having its own definition, procedure, and protection measure. The new integrated Heritage Act puts an end to past fragmentation. Besides, most of the provisions applying to monuments will be gradually transferred to the Environmental & Planning Act (currently in preparation), resulting in a greatly slimmed-down Heritage Act. By 2019, heritage care will be combined in two acts: the Heritage Act and the Environmental & Planning Act.


The management of collections

Besides bringing together the various regulations in a single Heritage Act, this legislation contains a number of substantive new provisions. The first one concerns the management of collections, and more specifically the selling of national culture goods on the free market. In recent years, there have been a number of cases about the sale of some cultural collections in municipal ownership, which aroused great discussion at the House of Parliament. The first incident happened in 2011 when the Museum Gouda sold the painting ‘The Schoolboys’ by the Dutch painter Marlène Dumas on the art market in London for 1,3 million euro. The second incident concerned the WereldMuseum Rotterdam. Its director wanted to sell the museum’s striking African collection after he decided to steer a different course. Fortunately, the sale was stopped by the local municipality. Although those two museums are registered with the Dutch Museum Association, they did not follow the museum guideline which requires to consult other museums before selling or deaccessing an important collection item. The new legislation consequently includes a guarantee for careful decision-making regarding the disposal of a cultural object or collection by central government, a province, or a municipality. That guarantee entails the obligation to seek expert advice on the proposed disposal. On the other hand, the new Act places a duty on the Minister for Education, Culture and Science to add high-quality items of cultural property to the national collection if the owner is no longer able to look after them and wishes to donate them to the State.

Another major provision in the new Heritage Act is the change from a permits system for archaeological excavations to a certification system. It is no longer the Minister for Education, Culture and Science who will issue the permit for carrying out excavations but a certification institution, which will assess whether a party is in fact suitable to carry out excavations. From now on, it will be the certification institute who can withdraw a permit if the requirements are not met. Giving self-regulation a more prominent position in archaeology is intended to bring about more effective policy regarding quality in this field.


The Heritage Monitor

Among other novelties are the recognition, definition, and protection of interior ensembles and shipwrecks; but also the reference to the ‘Heritage Monitor’ (in Dutch: Erfgoedmonitor). The Heritage Monitor was presented in a previous EHHF article last year (date 24/06/2015). The Monitor regularly measures a fixed set of indicators (113 available at the present time) in the areas of archaeology, historic buildings, historic landscapes and museums and collections, thus highlighting trends and developments over the course of time. This website tool is the first of its kind among European state heritage agencies. It is user-friendly and gives a major insight into the status of cultural heritage in the Netherlands.

Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General, praised the Heritage Act adopted by the Netherlands as an example to be followed by other UNESCO Member States during a ‘Europe Lecture’ she gave in The Hague on 13 June 2016.


You can access the website of the Heritage Monitor here: http://erfgoedmonitor.nl/en

You can read more about the Heritage Act 2016 in the brochure below.