My biggest goal is to strengthen the participation of our residents
Interview with Jan Rijpstra, Mayor of Smallingerland
- August 22, 2019 11:30
- Aseniya Dimitrova
Mr Rijpstra, could you briefly describe Smallingerland and tell us what you like the most about your municipality?
Smallingerland is a municipality in the Dutch province of Friesland. It includes 14 small villages, with Drachten as its capital. The municipality has 55,939 residents (on 1 January 2019) and covers an area of 126,18 km². Drachten is a dynamic city set in beautiful surroundings, including many lakes, rivers and a beautiful national park. Smallingerland-Drachten has a strategic position in the northern part of the Netherlands for industry and education. Culture, heritage and sports are important for the community, and there is a high level of participation amongst its residents. I personally like the creativity and innovation of this energetic town.
If you were to mention the strongest economic, cultural and natural advantages of the municipality, what would these be?
Smallingerland has an extensive industrial sector. Along with the healthcare sector, this is the largest sector of the municipality. In addition, Smallingerland is slightly over-represented when it comes to the number of jobs in the construction and education sectors.
We focus particularly on three economic sectors
- High Tech Industry
- Port industry
- Healthcare economy
The Innovation Cluster Drachten is an internationally active ecosystem of collaborating high-tech companies and knowledge institutions that lead the way with innovations and that compete on the world market. Working at our companies means contributing to the solutions for the major challenges of the future. We call this the ‘Big 5 of the High Tech’: 3D metal printing, Remote sensoring and big data, Robotics, Visual intelligence and All electric propulsion. And we do this by using the latest products, ICT and process technologies, and where necessary by developing these ourselves. This is possible due to the unique pre-competitive collaboration of our R&D departments. And the result is more than 50 new product introductions each year worldwide. Products that, for example, save people’s lives, make the operation of complex systems child’s play and products that are geared to the individual wishes and needs of consumers and that make data accessible in order to improve food quality. Our collaboration forms ‘The heart of the smart factory region’ of North West Europe.
We also have the Simmerdeis festival. What makes this festival so special is that it lasts for 4 days in the open air and is well-known throughout the surrounding area. And everyone can visit for free. We also have the Smallingerland museum, which we are very proud of. Here you can see a fine De Stijl collection. There is also the Lawei, which is both a theatre and concert hall as well as a centre for cultural education. The many marching bands in the village liven up the place and help instil a feeling of togetherness. The racing event Skûtsjesilen (sailing with historical flat bottom boats) takes place here every year and attracts skûtsje sailing boats from all over Friesland.
We live amidst a varied landscape. We have a lot of water, meadows and woodlands. We also have a good walking and cycling network. It’s an attractive municipality in which to live and work thanks to the high level of facilities. Drachten functions as the central municipality for the region.
You were inaugurated as mayor very recently. What are your biggest goals for the municipality? Are there major transformations to be seen within the upcoming years?
My biggest goals for the community in the coming years are to strengthen the participation of our residents, so that together with them and the industrial sector we can provide exposure to the Sustainability Map 2040. It’s very important to me that our citizens have a good feeling about our city.
The municipality boasts a firmly rooted Frisian language. Could you tell us what measures are in place or will be undertaken to preserve this cultural treasure?
We have recently drafted a Frisian language policy document in the Municipality of Smallingerland. The policy plan 'Frisian language and culture Mei ik jo wat freegje?' provides considerable support for the use of the Frisian language in our municipality.
The Frisian language has diverse functions: as a native language, at home, on the street, at school, during sports, in healthcare, art and culture, and in the enjoyment of the Frisian language in music, books, theatre and films. The recognition of the Frisian language as an official administrative language has led to a greater and more formal use of the Frisian language as well as a greater visibility of multilingualism in the public sphere. In order to embed the Frisian language further, the Frisian Language Use Act was introduced on 1 January 2014. The preservation and active stimulation of the Frisian language is a task and responsibility of the Friesland provincial authorities and other government bodies. The provincial authorities have entered into various agreements with municipalities in order to support the language policy. The municipalities in Friesland formulate policy and agreements for their administrative communication. All components from the previous legislation, such as the General Administrative Law Act, have now been incorporated within the new legislation. Since 1970, the Frisian language has been recognised as a second state language. In 1985, policy intentions were set down in the policy document "Fan Geunst nei Rjocht". The policy document "Mei hert, holle en hannen 2017-2020" of the provincial authorities set out important guidelines for giving the Frisian language a stronger position.
In 2016, the Council adopted the Sustainability Map 2040. Could you tell us at what stage the execution of this document is now? And what innovations are expected to be introduced by the end of your term as mayor?
We have a sustainability agenda which sets out our ambitions in the area of sustainability. Our work is focused on the themes of Energy, Climate and Circularity. We do this by increasing awareness and helping private individuals, but also by setting a good example as a municipality. Some noteworthy things we are currently doing include:
- Our sustainable vehicle fleet (many electric cars and field staff use blue diesel).
- A good example is the renovation of the school in Opeinde; it was awarded the Gouden Kikker prize for sustainable renovation. The architect was praised for his efforts, but the municipal project management of course also played their part by setting the framework for the renovation
- Generating energy on our own roofs (town hall, industrial building at Tussendiepen and parking garage)
- Local greenery management: bee-friendly municipality certificate, extensive mowing management, introducing insect hotels, planting vegetation on our forecourt
- Various projects for private individuals: sedum roof, rain barrel promotion, operation Steenbreek (making gardens greener), garden ambassadors
The municipality is also working hard to realise the sustainable development goals of the United Nations, with the aim of growing from a millennium municipality to a global goal municipality.
The coalition agreement signed one year ago puts the residents at the centre of governance. How do you communicate with your fellow citizens and how would you involve them in the decision-making processes?
In the coalition agreement from a year ago the residents were put at the centre of governance. It meant introducing a new system for decision-making in the city council. First of all, an announcement is made on the Internet and in the local papers regarding the topics on the agenda. People can then apply to participate, after which we start an initial round table discussion about a topic in which everybody can take part: individuals, representatives from clubs, industry and so on. They can provide input for further discussion two weeks later in the meeting of the city council. After the round table, the city council has its discussion meeting, and then finally a so-called 'voting meeting'.
We involve our residents and organisations in the development of policy. The environmental vision is an example of how policy can come about through co-creation. We consider it important to provide a service to our residents. In the coming years we wish to continue to invest in improving our communication with our residents. The municipal executive regularly consults with villages and neighbourhood councils regarding ongoing developments. In this way, they are informed about what’s going on in the municipality. We are also active on social media and respond to questions and reports from our residents.
Finally, TheMayor.EU is a portal that brings together best practices and innovations from European municipalities. We aim to showcase the good work of the mayors, but also to make them more accountable. In what ways do you think this will be useful to your own administration?
In my opinion, it is very important to learn from one another; not only from the good practices and innovations, but also from difficult discussions and initiatives that were unsuccessful. We must be open and transparent to our citizens as well as accountable. But also, as a mayor you have to be a point of contact for your citizens.
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