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Red light district needs long term vision says Amsterdam ombudsman

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Amsterdam’s ombudsman, who made international headlines last year describing the city’s red light district as an ‘urban jungle’ has published a string of recommendations to clean up the area. 

Arre Zuurmond, who spent some time living in the district to get to know the problems better, has spoken to more than 100 locals, police officers and council officials to draw up his final report after a three-year project. 

The ombudsman has identified seven key causes for concern: litter, over-tourism, public nuisance; homelessness, sex work, drugs and criminal infiltration. Amsterdam’s image is that of a city where everything is possible and the red-light district is praised as a tourist attraction worldwide,’ the report states. 

‘Stag and hen parties, pub crawls – the overuse of drink and drugs by this group of tourists are a primary cause of problems, but also tax the system in terms of hospital services.’ 

There are no simple solutions to this, and efforts need to be made to develop a long-term vision for the area, Zuurmond said. In the short term, however, there are a number of steps which officials can take, the report said. 

Officials could ban eating and drinking in certain areas to cut down on litter and the city, as shareholder, can pressure Schiphol to reduce the number of cheap flights, the report said. 

There should be more camera supervision to crack down on waste dumping, government inspectors should check bars and cafes at night as well as during the day, and more must be done to limit the problems caused by too many taxis. 

Drugs 

The problem of drugs dealers – an estimated 300 tout their trade in the district – also needs to be addressed and efforts must be made to change Amsterdam’s reputation as the drugs capital of Europe. 

This would also lessen the exposure of Amsterdam children to drugs at a young age and help cut down on crime, the report states. Crime and criminal infiltration also need to be tackled, the report says. 

‘Brothel owners often run bars, Airbnb and souvenir shops,’ the report said. ‘They have a hand in the entire chain, and this leads to the circulation of lots of black money. 

Economic 

Efforts must also be made to rehouse the group of 30 to 50 homeless people who live in the red-light district, who are often drunk and cause considerable problems, the ombudsman said. 

Amsterdam’s mayor Femke Halsema, who said last year that moving the red-light district to a new location would be an option, said the council is already taking short-term steps to improve the situation but agreed a long-term view is needed. 

In the past the area has been regulated as an ‘economic zone’, not the cultural and historic district is, she pointed out. (DutchNews)

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Investigate nail bars, Dutch human trafficking rapporteur says

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch human trafficking rapporteur has said the Netherlands should start an investigation into the nail bar market, following reports that many of the women who work in them are being trafficked and exploited. 

Despite indications of abuse, little is being done to investigate if there are problems, Herman Bolhar told broadcaster NOS following a documentary on the sector. 

Government inspectors, local authorities and the police should take a more proactive approach because the victims of human trafficking rarely come forward themselves Bohar said. 

The national police told NOS that they do not see the need for a major investigation into the nail bar sector. ‘We have to make choices when it comes to human trafficking and our hands are full,’ a spokesman said. 

Some 9,000 nail bars are registered with the chambers of commerce, a rise of 3,000 on 2013. In Spain, England and Belgium there is evidence that nail bars are being used to launder money and that many of the women who work there are being exploited, NOS said. (DutchNews)

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Fewer Dutch firms go bust, bankruptcy rate hits lowest level this century

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – In total 3,144 companies went bust in the Netherlands last year, the lowest number this century, national statistics agency CBS said on Friday. 

The bankruptcy total hit a peak of 8,376 in 2013, but has been falling since then, in line with economic growth, the CBS said. Most of the companies which went bust were involved in trade – both wholesale and retail – but there was little change in the number on 2017. 

However, there has been a sharp drop in the number of business services firms going bankrupt. The figures do not include one-man operated companies.  (DutchNews)

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Second hand needs the upper hand, says government advice body

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands is not making enough headway to achieve a circular economy by 2050, a report by a government advice bureau has found. 

A study by the Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving (PBL) suggests that the government deadline to become completely waste-free by 2050 is unlikely to be met without huge changes. 

It calls for a tax on raw material use, plus efforts to encourage people to fall in love with second-hand goods. The PBL looked at all 85,000 business activities in the Netherlands aimed at saving raw materials and judged only 1,500 truly innovative. 

Many are based on recycling, which it said is not ideal because it still uses raw materials in the first place. The government spent most of its budget for promoting a zero-waste circular economy – some €22.5m – on recycling and buying recycled goods last year. 

But the PBL says it should focus more on reusing existing products, encouraging people to repair, lease or rent them. That requires a change in mentality of the Dutch public which, according to the PBL, is still not enamoured of second-hand stuff. 

Apart from breaking down legal barriers to innovative initiatives, the main PBL advice to the government is to impose an environmental tax on raw materials. Without this equalizing measure, it says, re-used materials will remain comparatively expensive.(DutchNews)

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Minister to ‘talk to Novartis’ after five-fold cancer drug price hike

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Health minister Bruno Bruins is planning to talk to Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Novartis this week about the five-fold hike in the price of a drug to treat a rare form of cancer.

Bruins told a television talk show on Wednesday evening that the decision to put up the price of a year’s supply to €90,000 is an ‘example of how not to behave’. ‘These are outrageous sums,’ Bruins said. 

‘And I am not done with this yet.’ The drug, lutetium-octreotaat, was developed in the mid 1980s by researchers at Rotterdam’s Erasmus Medical Centre but the company which makes it is now owned by Novartis following a string of takeovers. 

Novartis then registered the drug as an orphan treatment with the European patent office, according to research by Dutch medical journal Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde. 

Bruins told the Jinek talk show that the EU rules on orphan drugs are meant to stimulate the development of new medicines and says he plans to raise this abuse of the system within Europe. 

‘This expensive medicine is covered in the basic health insurance package so patients will continue to be treated,’ he said. ‘But we are having to deal with so many other really expensive drugs that we really do have to tackle this.’ 

Several Dutch hospitals make their own version of lutetium-octreotaat at a cost of some €4,000 per drip. A full treatment session comprises four drips. Apple chief Steve Jobs was among the patients who were treated using the medicine in Rotterdam. 

Meeting 

A spokeswoman for Novartis told DutchNews.nl that the company is ‘willing to discusses this topic with all stakeholders including the government’. 

The company said the until its approval by the European Medicines Agency, the drug, formally known as Lutathera, ‘was only available as an experimental treatment at centers with the facilities and capabilities to manage the compounding of a radioactive product.’ 

The drug has now undergone major clinical trials and is available as a targeted therapy to patients in Europe and the US, Novartis said. After its approval in 2018, ‘the price of Lutathera was carefully considered and based on the relative benefit it provides to patients’, the company said. 

Price 

Last year, the Dutch healthcare institute Zorginstituut Nederland said insurers should stop paying for expensive drugs if pharmaceutical companies continue to refuse to say how they arrive at the price.

And in November, Amsterdam’s AMC teaching hospital was given the green light by health ministry inspectors to make its own version of a licensed drug to treat a rare metabolic disorder. 

The hospital began making its own version of the drug after manufacturer Leadiant ramped up the price by around 500% to €200,000 per patient per year. The drug has been available since the 1970s but Leadiant only registered it as an orphan medicine with the European medicine’s agency in 2017. 

Orphan status, given to drugs which are used to treat very specific and rare illnesses, means a drug cannot be copied commercially for a 10-year period.(DutchNews)

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Council taxes rise, Amsterdam tenants and home owners hard hit

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Dutch home owners will have to spend an average of €702 this year on local authority taxes to cover waste collection and other services, and the sharpest rise – over 11% – is in Amsterdam. 

The research, carried out by the Coelo institute at Groningen University, is based on information from the 37 biggest local authority areas in the Netherlands. The nationwide average of €702 is a rise of 4.3% on 2018. 

Tenants, who are not liable for property tax, will pay an average of €347 in local authority taxes, a rise of 5.4%. The increase is largely due to a major hike in waste collection fees, which has been passed on to households by councils following a rise in national government charges. 

The government hopes that by increasing the national taxes on waste, councils will be encouraged to do more to recycle rubbish. 

Variations 

There are, however, wide variations in local taxes. 

Tenants in Nijmegen, for example, pay an average of just €40 while in Zaanstad the average bill hits €571. Home owners’ average taxes vary from €563 in The Hague to €856 in Enschede. 

The biggest increase facing tenants this year is in Haarlem, where average local council bills have gone up over 18%, followed by Amsterdam with a rise of 17.6%. Amsterdam also tops the list of local authorities where home owners’ bills have gone up most, with a rise of 11.3%. 

Nevertheless, with average council tax bills of €654, Amsterdam home owners are still paying well below the national average of €702.(DutchNews)

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Dutch university shocked by nazi comparison by pro-Nashville theology lecturer

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Amsterdam’s VU University says it is ‘shocked’ by a theology lecturer’s statement in which he compared ‘gender ideology’ to nazi thought. 

Pieter de Vries made the comments in the wake of the debate about the Dutch version of the Nashville Statement, in which orthodox Protestants affirm their belief in marriage as the ‘covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman’. 

The document, signed by some 250 people in the Netherlands, also states that ‘it it is sinful to approve of homosexual impurity or transgenderism.’ De Vries said in the AD earlier this week that ‘too little is being taught about what the Bible says about marriage and sexuality.’ 

‘We have to let our voices be heard,’ he said. ‘When nazi ideology was on the rise, the churches kept quiet. Now gender ideology is doing the same, the church is still too often too silent.’ 

De Vries, who is also a minister, is one of the people behind the Dutch version of the statement as is department professor Willem van Vlastuin. 

Rainbow 

The VU said in a statement that the document cannot be reconciled with the inclusive character of the university. It has also hung a rainbow flag – a symbol of the campaign for LBGT rights – from its main campus building.

‘At the VU, you can be who you are, say what you like and love who you love,’ the statement said. ‘Our colleague has since shown remorse and appropriate steps will be taken in a forthcoming tough chat. 

We have to be clear that a boundary has been overstepped.’ The university is also organising a debate with students and staff. The VU was founded in 1880 by a group of orthodox Protestant Christians and it was not until the 1970s that it really became a broad, research-oriented university. 

The Dutch prosecution service is currently examining whether the Nashville statement breaches the law.(DutchNews)

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RTL broadcasts photos showing terrorist suspects with bomb vests, guns

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Photos showing a group of suspected terrorists wearing bomb vests and waving Kalashnikov rifles while living in a house on a holiday park in Limburg have been broadcast by RTL news.

The photos come from police footage of the four men, who were arrested at the end of September in a string of raids in connection with what police said was ‘a major terrorist attack’. 

The images were made during a two-hour meeting between the suspects and two undercover police officers. The police were posing as arms traders who could supply weapons for an attack. 

The holiday house was bugged to collect evidence, RTL said. In total, seven people were arrested. They ranged in age from 21 to 34 and three of them, including the alleged ringleader, have previous convictions for attempting to join IS in Syria. 

Terrorism expert Jelle van Buuren told RTL that the photographs show that ‘here are people of conviction, busy practising for a major attack.’ RTL said the weapons had been made safe and there were no explosives in the bomb vests. 

The photos were taken on September 27, the same day the gang was rounded up. 

Tip-off 

The investigation began into the 34-year-old man police suspect to have led the cell in April, following a tip-off from the AIVD security service. 

The AIVD said the man, an Iraqi national, had been planning an attack at a major event in the Netherlands with the aim of creating as many victims as possible. Six of the suspects will appear in court for a remand hearing on Thursday. 

The seventh suspect was released from custody but is still formally considered a suspect.(DutchNews)

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‘Amsterdam’s new metro can be pulled through to Schiphol airport’

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Amsterdam officials and Schiphol airport have reached agreement on tackling the airport’s public transport problems, including the option of extending the city’s new metro route to the main terminal building. 

Schiphol chief executive Dick Benschop told Parool reporters on Monday evening that the first proposals are now with central government. ‘The question is no longer if the metro should be extended but when,’ Benschop said. 

Amsterdam’s transport alderman Sharon Dijksma has confirmed that the city is in talks about ‘improving the connection between the south west of the city and Schiphol, including extending the metro,’ the paper said. 

The city’s new metro line, which is just 10 kilometres long, opened this summer but critics say officials wasted an opportunity to make a link to the airport, which is becoming increasingly difficult to reach by car, as well as commuter towns to the north. 

Surroundings 

Benschop also told his audience at Schiphol’s New Year reception on Monday evening that the airport needed to build ‘a new relationship with its surroundings’ and that Schiphol employees’ remuneration will, from now on, also depend on Schiphol’s reputation among local residents. 

‘The conversation with directors and residents is under way,’ Benschop said. ‘Yet it is clear that we have a lot more to do to regain confidence and restore the balance. For many it is: ‘we’ll have to see it to believe it’.” 

Noise 

Noise complaints reached a record level last year. In total 11,500 complaints were made to the airport noise hotline, three times the number in 2017. Schiphol is now nearing the limits of its potential expansion, with 499,446 take-offs and landings last year. 

The airport faces a ceiling of 500,000 aircraft movements up to 2020. The airport processed 71 million passengers last year, a rise of 3.7% on 2017 but freight volumes were down 3%. Schiphol currently serves 326 destinations.
(DutchNews)

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Public prosecutor looks into corruption claim over railway land deal

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The public prosecutor’s office is looking into a possible case of corruption involving the sale of railway land to a property developer, the AD reports. 

The case centres on one of two controversial deals struck by Dutch railway company NS in 2010 and 2014, the paper said. The strips of land were sold by Dutch rail to property developers Railside and Bakkhe Vastgoed for almost nothing after track operator ProRail turned the deals down. 

However, ProRail was later forced to buy the land for millions of euros because it was needed for widening the tracks and building bridges. The current investigation focuses on the sale of land to Bakkhe Vastgoed, which, the paper says, may have profited from inside information from a former shareholder in Railside. 

Railside bought the first package of land in 2010. The NS has already conducted an internal investigation into insider dealing but found no basis for it, a spokesperson told the AD. 

Meanwhile parliament wants more information about how millions of euros of public money were wasted on railway land in what current ProRail boss Pier Eringa called ‘a shambles’, the paper writes.(DutchNews)

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