483 municipalities in the Netherlands in 2004

Last year, eleven municipalities in the Netherlands were abolished and five new ones were formed, resulting in a net 6 fewer municipalities in the Netherlands. On 1 January 2004, there were 483 municipalities in the Netherlands.

Forty years of redivisions

In 1964 the map of the Netherlands showed 977 municipalities. A wave of consolidations and redivisions has reduced the number to half of this in the space of forty years. The number of municipalities with fewer than 25 thousand inhabitants in particular has dropped sharply, while the number with more than 100 thousand inhabitants has doubled in this period.

Number of municipalities, 1964-2004

While there were thirteen municipalities with populations below 500 in 1964, in 2003 the thirteen smallest municipalities had fewer than 5 thousand inhabitants. In 2004 the redivision of five municipalities will result in one new large municipality – Westland - with just under 100 thousand inhabitants.

Many changes in the southwest of the Netherlands

Many small municipalities in the provinces South Holland and Zeeland have merged since 1964. Some municipalities are made up of fourteen or fifteen former municipalities. The six municipalities in Hoeksche Waard today used to be fourteen. A proposal to combine them into one municipality was postponed recently, following a referendum.

Municipal map of the southwest of the Netherlands

Increase in scale in the northeast

In the north-eastern provinces, large scale redivisions took place in the eighties and nineties. Whole provinces were reorganised in one fell swoop: Groningen (1990), Drenthe (1998), Overijssel (2001) and to a lesser extent Friesland (1984). This increase in scale has led to municipal names with a more regional character, for example Eemsmond in Groningen, De Wolden in Drenthe and Hof van Twente in Overijssel.

Municipal map of the northeast of the Netherlands

Municipal collaboration or new redivisions?

The administrative organisation of the Netherlands has been a topic of debate for many years now. Government policy long favoured fewer and larger municipalities. The present government no longer aims for mergers, but for more collaboration between municipalities. As from 1 January 2005, provincial governments will have legal authority to oblige municipalities to work together in certain areas. Where there is a lack of decisive management, provincial governments themselves may conceivably take more initiatives for municipal redivisions.

Duncan Beeckman

Source: Gemeentelijke indeling op 1 januari 2004