Open letter tree felling Sterrebos
The last activists in our trees in Limburg were brought to safety this morning. After that, a start was made with the felling of trees.
In view of the interest in the occupation of our trees, and the reactions to it, we believe there is a need to once again fully explain our vision and the backgrounds as to why we have decided to cut down the trees.
Because our trees were occupied, we are forced to start the felling earlier. To maintain public order and safety, and to prevent further disruption of this, we have therefore accelerated the felling of trees.
The created contradiction, as if nature lovers and employers were opposed to each other, does not do justice to reality. Since the foundation of our family business in 1953, we have shown that we are a sustainable and caring company that attaches great importance to corporate social responsibility, as well as concern for the quality of life in the areas surrounding our sites. We are also lovers of flora and fauna. We are actively involved in environmental compensation with, for instance, our company VDL Grondmaatschappij ten behoud van Natuurschoon, which was founded in 2014. In this context, we can therefore also understand the position against the felling of trees.
Sustainability and continuity
However, together with the province and municipalities, we have been working intensively on the spatial expansion of our car factory, VDL Nedcar in Born, for seven years now. All stakeholders have always been involved in this. During the past years, a thorough democratic decision-making process was completed. The importance of ecology also weighed heavily. On the many consultation evenings attended by local residents and other stakeholders, we always experience broad support.
The activists who have occupied our trees, or their sympathisers, never showed up, not even for an interview. Nor have they ever joined an objection procedure.
To realise the area development, we have opted for substantial additional investments. We have deliberately opted for a very extensive environmental compensation. We believe that’s important. Continuity and passing on our company to the next generation in a more sustainable and healthy way is the highest goal for our family business. That’s in our DNA.
We have stuck out our necks for the interests of neighbouring residential areas. For instance, we have turned the area around our factory into a beautiful area where from now on, it is possible to recreate.
We have done our utmost to generously compensate objectors. For the sake of completeness, we list the most important elements: 130 new bat boxes, new badger’s setts, new herb-rich grassland, new fruit trees, new beehives, a socially, sustainably and circularly renovated castle, new cycling and walking tracks giving the area an enhanced recreational character, and tree planting (more than 2-fold compared to trees to be felled). In addition to that planting, we are replanting 55 large trees from the area in the adjacent Wolfrath area. Trees with a diameter of at least 40 centimetres, at a height of 150 centimetres.
We are setting up a foundation that will make a contribution to the quality of life in and around the residential areas in the immediate vicinity of VDL Nedcar by means of green space compensation, among other things. We are making a considerable amount of seed capital available for this green fund. In addition, we are also making efforts for a new footbridge over the provincial road (N297) to restore the route of the famous Pieterpad, and we are also committed to the realisation of a noise barrier and green bank.
Agreement with objectors
The extensive compensation package has convinced all objectors who did come forward over the years. That includes De Groene Sporenwolf (DGS) and Stichting Ecologisch Vleermuis Onderzoek Nederland (SEVON). These groups had brought proceedings against the province about the area development at the Council of State. As the constructive consultations with DGS and SEVON have led to an agreement, the Council of State does not have to pass a ruling: this means the spatial expansion of VDL Nedcar has been given the go-ahead.
It is also relevant to consider the need for expansion. This is inspired by the adage that VDL Groep wants to sustainably maintain and strengthen employment in the high-quality manufacturing industry.
If we stop production for our current customer BMW at the end of 2023, we will not immediately be able to build another car on the same production line. It takes about 1.5 years to convert the factory. New customers can’t wait for that. If we cannot guarantee an earlier, specific date for the production start, they will opt for alternatives and therefore drop out. A very black scenario for employment, as well as for the economic (regional and national) perspective.
The area development is therefore an absolute necessity in order to be able to expand our factory, and more importantly: for job retention. The scenario is as follows: the expansion should be completed by the end of 2023, so that our employees can exchange the current production units where MINIs and BMWs are produced until then for the new units where production for a new customer can start. What about new clients? We expect to be able to provide clarity shortly.
Suggestions for realising the expansion elsewhere, in a car park or an adjacent meadow (if available at all), have of course been intensively researched in recent years. Independent studies have shown that these alternatives, also cited by activists, are not feasible. Neither is building a completely new factory elsewhere, also a frequently heard comment during the past week.
Thanks to substantial investments, in employees and in automation, VDL Nedcar has grown into one of the best car factories in the world, with fantastic professionals. We can hold our own with the absolute world top in terms of quality and delivery reliability. A treasure in the industry that the Netherlands can be proud of.
Through our strength through co-operation, we have trained thousands of employees ourselves over the past 10 years and offered them perspective by offering them a job. The number of employees in Born has grown from 1,450 in 2012 to 4,200 now.
Indirect employment includes a further 8,000 employees. Our expansion is therefore about securing the future of more than 12,000 families.
The car industry is one of the driving forces behind the manufacturing industry, and also provides many jobs in the service sector. New clients will source parts for their vehicles regionally as much as possible. A completely new ecosystem will be created, which can give employment in Limburg and the Netherlands a significant boost in the long term.
As a mainstay of the manufacturing industry in the Netherlands, we also provide employment for a wide group of employees, including a group who have had little or no opportunity to complete a training course and in some cases, do not receive attention from the government. A group that is unfortunately overrepresented in Limburg.
We do this based on our corporate philosophy to create social value, with, among other things, attention to sustainable employment, but of course also close involvement with the living environment.
Back to the felling of the trees
The timber from the felled trees will be made available to, among others, schools in Limburg that provide practical training in woodworking. By having students make wooden benches, tables, twig banks, bridges and insect hotels, an attempt is made to give the felled wood in and around the Wolfrath recreation area and on the VDL Nedcar site a sustainable, new use.
We realise that the call for a sustainable, green future is louder than ever. ‘Greening’ passenger cars through electrification is an important part of this. We want to ensure that the employees of the only car factory in the Netherlands will make an important contribution to this. Let’s maintain and strengthen employment at VDL Nedcar in Born, and thus at many other companies in Limburg. This will benefit everyone’s welfare and well-being.
Board of Management, VDL Groep