On Thursday March 24, more than 80 participants gathered in Utrecht for the meeting ‘Heat stress: approach at home and abroad’, organized by the province of Utrecht. “Making a local heat plan should no longer be optional.”
Now is the time to draw up local heat plans, so that the Netherlands is well prepared for a possible heat wave next summer. Mirjam Sterk, the new deputy of the province of Utrecht, emphasized this during the plenary opening of the meeting. “It is important that local heat plans are no longer optional. Each municipality must appoint one person as ‘heat director’. He or she can assess the risks and enter into discussions with housing corporations, among others. The province wants to be a connecting factor.” Sterk also sees a role for consultancy firms. “They can help municipalities draw up a local heat plan.”
Stef Meijs, climate adaptation program manager at the province of Utrecht, shares Sterk’s opinion. “It really is a matter of just doing it. Get started, use the guide to setting up a local heat plan. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time and effort, but we need decisiveness now. And if it doesn’t work, ask for support.”
Learning from the approach abroad
During a heat wave in Portland, America, last year, the temperature rose to 46.5 degrees. More than 150 inhabitants, mostly frail elderly, did not survive the heat wave. Most people died of overheating, often in combination with other underlying conditions. Almost all victims did not have an air conditioner or lived in a small house with the bedroom directly under the roof. Madeleen Helmer of Climate Association Netherlands spoke on behalf of the province of Utrecht with two American climate experts about the serious situation in Portland. The report of this was shown during the meeting.
“An event or crisis from time to time is useful for the sense of urgency”says Frank van Wijk of the Utrecht Security Region. “That sounds harsh, but if you look at the corona crisis: how long have we been saying that we have to be prepared for that?” According to Van Wijk, the province of Utrecht is theoretically prepared for a similar heat wave. In practice, however, it may be different. “You always have to deal with unexpected factors.”
Heat in social housing
In the sub-session on heat in social housing, Edwin van der Strate of consultancy and engineering firm Tauw presents the results of a study into heat in homes. This shows that ventilation and sun protection are important points of attention when insulating homes. Tauw also developed a tool with which you can calculate a heat label for your home, comparable to an energy label. During a discussion at the end of the session, it emerged that it is good to focus on the most vulnerable neighborhoods and buildings, so that it is quickly clear where the risks lie. It is also not necessary to assess houses separately. The heat stress problem requires a cross-domain approach, in which attention must also be paid to, among other things, biodiversity. Poor neighborhoods are warm neighborhoods
The second sub-session focuses on poor neighborhoods. “The poorest neighborhoods are often also the warmest”, says Hiltrud Pötz of Atelier Groenblauw. There is a shortage of greenery in these neighborhoods, the houses are small and bedrooms are often located directly under the roof. As a designer and coach, Pötz was involved in greening a neighborhood in Leiden. “It is difficult to involve the residents in the process. You need a long breath for that. You really have to take your time, repeat a lot and organize playful actions.” The lack of space is also often a tricky issue in poor neighbourhoods. “The streets are often narrow. You have to make choices. You cannot realize multiple parking spaces and place trees and create green belts.”
The impact of heat on health
The collaboration between the social and physical domain was central to the session on health. Both are desperately needed for a local heat plan to be effective. Fedor Gassner of the GGD region of Utrecht indicated that an increase in temperature has a direct impact on people’s health. Think of: fatigue, concentration problems, dizziness, skin problems and a dry mouth. A heat plan warns, but the information is one-sided, someone notes. “A helpline could be a good addition.” Rogér Derksen from Arcadis shares his experiences in The Hague, where it has been quite a job to bring the right organizations together “Getting the social domain on board is now more important than the physical domain, because many steps have already been taken in the physical domain.” Several participants pointed out the importance of better involving GPs and umbrella organizations of GPs.
Stef Meijs closes the day. “It was an inspiring afternoon. It strikes me that a large number of young people were present today. I think that’s very important. They have to take the baton.” Finally, Meijs makes a prediction. “In 2023, all municipalities in the province of Utrecht will have a local heat plan ready. As a province, we will do our utmost to facilitate that process.”