Reinforcement of houses in Groningen will take another 20 years at this rate’

The strengthening of unsafe houses in the earthquake area of Groningen is still too slow. At the current rate, it will be another 20 years before all the people of Groningen live as safely as the rest of the Netherlands, the mining supervisor SodM is evaluating.

It is estimated that 26,000 houses may need to be reinforced; to date, this has happened to more than 1,000 houses. Last year a total of 300 addresses were reinforced. As a result, implementation is lagging far behind and this year’s pace is again too slow, according to the supervisory authority.

Need for compensation slows down reinforcement

In order to prevent further social disruption and to regain the confidence of the people of Groningen in the government, the supervisory authority believes that the houses need to be strengthened more quickly. In the second half of 2019 things seemed to be going better, but in the meantime things are going slower again. Plans to accelerate are starting much slower than planned.

SSM observes that different interests are mixed up, which means that it is no longer making progress. Residents and local administrators want compensation for suffering and unfulfilled promises. In doing so, SSM adheres to insights that are now outdated.

SSM believes that the region is right to ask for compensation, but it is paralysing talks about strengthening buildings that are the most unsafe. “Some of the residents are afraid of being left empty-handed after years of waiting for the government, with fear, stress and sometimes illness as a result

Ministers must opt for a crisis approach

One of the biggest problems, according to SSM, is that there is no clear coordination of the strengthening of the houses. This is because the division of roles between the Groningen National Coordinator and the administrators of the earthquake municipalities is unclear.

The supervisor advises the responsible ministers Wiebes and Ollongren to opt for a crisis approach after all, in order to force more speed with the strengthening of houses. Other interests, such as compensation, must also be regulated, but in a separate process so that it does not come at the expense of strengthening. The National Coordinator must be given the mandate to take charge of this.

The Groninger Gas Council, which represents the interests of aggrieved Groningers, shares the regulator’s analysis that there is a lack of clear direction and coordination. But secretary Susan Top sees nothing in separating the strengthening of houses from compensation for victims. “Residents, on the contrary, need an integral solution (damage and strengthening), to be obtained at a one-stop shop. The fact that this is apparently difficult to organise is no excuse for not doing so”

If everything goes according to the Cabinet’s plan, gas production in Groningen will stop in 2022. Gas production has already been cut back considerably. Nevertheless, there are still earthquakes in the area, such as last Monday in Roodeschool with a magnitude of 1.9. The regulator expects the number of earthquakes to decrease over time, as well as the chance of heavier earthquakes. This will make it safer in Groningen, the SodM states, but reinforcement of houses is still needed.