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‘Role businesses in Zuidas risky’

14 February 2007 - There is a serious risk that businesses will shift financial losses on the Zuidas project onto the government. This was argued by Professor Arnold Heertje in an opinion article published yesterday in het Parool.

Last Friday, the municipality and the national government created the Zuidas Enterprise (ZAO), in order to develop the Amsterdam business district. Sixty percent of shares are to be sold to private businesses.

Urged by banks interested in participating in the project, it was decided that the government bears the financial risks. It was argued that this is necessary, because supervisor De Nederlandsche Bank does not allow financial institutions taking on unlimited financial risks.

According to the municipality, this construction is no problem, because there are sufficient financial reserves. In addition, participating companies would have an interest in making the project successful.

However, Heertje argues that the untransparent construction may facilitate abuse. He refers to a project in Groningen, “where the province and the municipality are in all secrecy developing the Meerstad project in collaboration with project developers and banks”.

By now, one company would have stepped out. “Without doubt, a large loss has been suffered, before the project even started. I foresee similar developments for the Zuidas”.

Heertje finds that foreign expertise must be brought in to protect Amsterdammers from the ‘unrestrained profit-seeking of private parties’.

Heertje is not alone in his criticism of public-private partnerships in economic development projects such as the Zuidas. This type of projects runs the risk of evading democratic control.

As a result, the interests of the businesses involved may gain the upper hand, at the expense of the public interest, writes Professor Erik Swyngedouw of Oxford University in the book Amsterdam Zuidas European Space.

“Amsterdam’s future, and the planning and implementation of its new Southern expansion, is too important to be left to a small crowd of political and economic elites”, Swyngedouw writes.

ABNAMRO Bank, Bank Nederlandse Gemeenten, Fortis Bank, ING Real Estate and Rabobank have been involved in the preparations for the ZAO. It is not yet certain that these institutions will in fact obtain the shares.

The shares in the enterprise will be auctioned. The auction is open to financial institutions with a turnover of at least 50 million euro.

See also: Zuidas


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