Energy reduction and the transition to sustainable energy sources belong to the major challenges we are facing today in order to mitigate climate change. The Netherlands aims to reduce its CO2 emissions with 49% by 2030 and with 95% by 2050 compared to 1990. The city of The Hague has even formulated the ambition to be climate neutral by 2030. Since the energy transition in the built environment can make a significant contribution to this goal, the city board makes significant investments this sector. But this vast ambition is largely influenced by the way citizens are prepared to join in or decide to opt out. It’s a transition that will only succeed if we work on it in collaboration.

A lot of attention is paid to technical solutions and new innovative techniques and installations to increase energy saving, energy production and energy storage. A lot of thought also goes into the development of financial instruments such as grant schemes and loans that support homeowners to invest in sustainable home renovation. But a third aspect has appeared to be at least as important as the technical and financial one. This third aspect is often overlooked but is fortunately increasingly gaining attention: the social aspect of the transition. Questions related to communication, governance and decision-making are of growing importance. As are the questions related to relationships of trust/mistrust between citizens and institutions, the issue of control or ownership, and of course the issue of affordability and the question whether the energy transition will be a transition that will enlarge existing inequalities or a transition that will attempt to reduce or overcome them.

Energy transition from the neighborhood up

Since the energy transition in the built environment is a collective effort, the municipality of The Hague is working with different instruments to involve, and collaborate with, local stakeholders. In the most optimal scenario, the energy transition will be one in which sustainability and quality of life go hand in hand: our efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and making neighborhoods more climate-proof will be connected to the efforts of making neighborhoods healthier and more pleasant to live in. To be able to connect this global challenge to the local context, The Hague is exploring in what ways the Community-Led Local Development (CLLD) approach can be used as a form of collaborative governance to work on these challenges. The CLLD approach is seen as an approach that, if implemented in a successful manner, has the ability to create the necessary preconditions for sustainable local development from the neighborhood up. In doing so, we joined the URBACT Com.Unity.Lab network and draw lessons from the first CLLD pilot in the Netherlands Stichting Initiatief op Scheveningen (SioS). While SioS focus was on social cohesion, local economy, employment opportunities and local identity – and not on the energy transition – their experience resulted in valuable lessons for further development of CLLD.

CLLD stems from the LEADER programme, established in the 1990s by the European Union in order to invest in bottom-up rural development projects aimed to revitalize rural areas and create employment opportunities. LEADER was later expanded to coastal areas (FARNET) and to urban areas (CLLD). Each of these programmes lean on the seven principles or elements of local development that were developed under LEADER: 

  • It’s an area-based approach
  • That works in a bottom-up manner with local action groups and local development strategies
  • It invested in public-private partnerships
  • And put attention to innovation and innovative approaches, it stimulated experimental ideas
  • It was an integrated approach that connected economic, social, environmental and cultural aspects
  • It stimulated and facilitated networking and knowledge exchange both horizontally and vertically
  • It stimulated and facilitated co-operation

The total housing stock of The Hague consists of approximately 265.000 dwellings. Half of the housing stock is part of the owner-occupied sector and the other half is split between the regulated rented sector (approximately 30%) and the deregulated rented sector (approximately 20%). These dwellings house over 546.000 inhabitants of The Hague and are more than just structures people live in: they form people’s homes. And while homes are physical structures, they are ‘particularly significant places’ that are built up by memories and relationships between people and space. Homes are very personal and to work on the energy transition in the built environment is to enter these homes, sometimes literally, and asking people to adopt measures and make changes in this personal sphere. It is therefore no surprise that this can result in disregard, frustration, misunderstanding or resistance. 

The energy transition and the presented time-frame is a highly necessary but politically induced decision. To make this transition successful and inclusive, it is important to connect to local opportunities and needs and by making sure there’s something in it for everyone. CLLD provides cities with an approach to merge local interests and collectively formulate a local sustainable development strategy that connects to what’s important on a local level. While first steps with this approach were taken in Scheveningen and lessons have been extremely valuable for further development, the focus on the energy transition has gained importance in the last couple of years and provides a new perspective and new opportunities. Moreover, The Hague has joined the Com.Unity.Lab network to learn from Lisbon how CLLD might be implemented on a larger scale and how the approach might work in priority neighborhoods. The most important lessons for the Hague focus on these two issues.


One lesson that we have learned throughout the Transfer period from our network partners, and from Stichting Initiatief op Scheveningen, is that it is extremely important to connect with a scale that makes sense locally. This depends on the actors that make up the local action group. The target area and its boundaries should make sense to all of them and should connect to what is perceived as ‘their’ neighborhood or district. At the start, this conflicted with the desire present in The Hague to scale-up the CLLD approach. How do you collectively work on CLLD on a larger scale without losing the connection to local interests? The way Lisbon has set up the CLLD approach has formed an inspiration for the further development of CLLD in The Hague. It has showed us that the ideal shape for CLLD depends on the local context and the social structures that are already present, but that it does not necessarily need to conflict with scaling up. Connecting to the local structures, The Hague is now orienting on building an overarching CLLD structure for multiple different LAGs. This serves two purposes: on the one hand the LAG is able to focus on what they signed up for (stimulating and supporting local initiatives) and on the other they have a platform they can turn to for technical assistance, exchange of experience and call for support (expertise and capacity building). The overarching structure allows representatives from the LAG to also take a step back and to take time together to keep asking ourselves if the CLLD approach continues to serve its purpose, if we should tweak the approach in one way or another, what the lessons are we can draw from our experiences and what lessons are relevant on a city-level. We believe that the development of the organizational structure will also be able to address several of the barriers that were previously faced throughout implementation.

The essentials

Another aspect that sets CLLD apart from other approaches is that it prioritizes investing in local capacity building. In order to really work on sustainable development from the neighborhood up, capacity building is a prerequisite especially in more vulnerable neighborhoods. Considering the CLLD approach is focusing on priority areas in Lisbon, The Hague has realized that this is one of the most important elements the approach has to offer. For further development of the approach, it is important to give this aspect more attention.

Another essential element that is considered crucial to make a fruitful start, is what the Lisbon team has called ignition money. We adopted this concept, convinced that it serves as a first step in the approach in any neighborhood. Ignition money has a very practical side since a small budget becomes available to support local project ideas. But the added value can be found in the symbolic significance of this gesture. Ignition money can be considered a first invitation to local actors to act together, it suggests to encourage or boost something and to be a start of something bigger. By putting ignition money on the table, both the LAG and other stakeholders are shown that change can happen and the approach works towards tangible results. It encourages local collaboration instead of local competition. Therefore, ignition money can cultivate the right atmosphere for the LAGs next steps into their CLLD journey.

Working on the CLLD approach takes time. Since 2016, steps have been taken and important lessons were learned from the SioS experience. Unfortunately, due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, approaches like CLLD suffer from the measures that restrict social interaction. But fortunately, the thinking about further development of CLLD has not stopped and in some way COVID-19 has only stressed the importance of sustainable neighborhood transformation. The Com.Unity.Lab URBACT networks has helped us to reflect on barriers and opportunities and partners have provided us with new insights and a fresh perspective on tackling challenges we’re all dealing with. The Hague hopes to continue the exchange with the Com.Unity.Lab network and other interested cities on how to work on transformative and sustainable change from the neighborhood up.

Submitted by Daniela Patti on 13/04/2021
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Daniela Patti

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