State Council ruling on Dutch mountain bike route after 13 years of litigation

30 April 2024

State Council ruling on Dutch mountain bike route after 13 years of litigation

The case is now known as the longest-running lawsuit filed against the permitting authorities of a mountain bike route in the Netherlands. In Schoorl, a town north of Amsterdam and Alkmaar, people have been mountain biking since 1996 on one of the most appreciated MTB routes of the country. In 2011, the Forestry Commission launched a plan to improve nature and restore habitats in this area by zoning outdoor recreation and moving some of the recreational trail infrastructure from a sensitive open dune landscape to a less vulnerable area.

What seemed to be a win-win situation for nature conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts developed into a protracted court case that has now finally been decided. The State Council, the highest administrative court in the country, has ruled on the appeal filed by the three nature conservation groups – stating the permit should not have been granted beause of negligent review of the nature protection law – and declared it unfounded. The Council of State declared the appeal of the Forestry Commission and the incidental appeal of the regional trail association MTB Noordwest well-founded.

This decision has led to relief for the mountain bike community but is really not to be celebrated. It’s highly unfortunate that the cases were brought to court at all. Consensus-based dialogue is the best way to achieve a goal that is worthwhile for both parties. Mountain bikers are environmentalists as well: it’s in our interest to preserve nature for future generations and to protect the places they love to explore on two wheels. This is especially true in a country where residents have the fewest square metres of nature per head of population in Europe.

Moving the mountain bike route to another area has been prepared with the utmost care. Numerous impact studies were conducted before the final design was submitted to the licensing authority. The huge legal costs accrued by all parties over all these years, the unnecessary burdening of the legal system with the almost endless dragging out of this case and the precious time lost which could have been committed to working proactively on nature restoration, will hopefully lead to the understanding that litigation is less rewarding than seeking cooperation. Let’s not risk alienating dedicated local mountain biking groups that have been involved in the maintenance and clean-up of their local trails by making them feel unwelcome in nature.

Next steps
Now that the ruling is irrevocable, the western part of the current route will be given back to nature (this is a vulnerable open dune area) and the Forestry Commission and regional trail association will start working on the final parts of the new route like signposting, information panels and classification. For more information, visit the website of MTB Noordwest.