TNO owns the most important databases of information on the subsurface and groundwater - and their geological properties - in the Netherlands. Its researchers use GISs (geographic information systems) and supporting modelling tools to access this information and make it suitable for use in a wide range of spatial planning applications.
Examples of this are incorporating sand and gravel extraction and the impact of groundwater abstraction and underground energy storage into spatial planning. TNO's years of experience with managing and analysing vast quantities of highly complicated, spatially defined information opens up a host of possibilities in terms of not only soil and groundwater themes, but also spatial planning ones. In theory, the ICT and GIS tools that have been developed can be used to draw connections between all kinds of spatial data in order to test or develop spatial policy.
A number of projects were performed for the Province of South Holland, over the course of which the suitability of certain regions for a variety of spatial uses (i.e., industrial parks, urban expansion, ecological development, etc.) was mapped out for the entire province. Suitability is determined on the basis of a huge number of variables and policy objectives, in addition to physical attributes, such as soil and groundwater data, all of which are translated into geographic base maps. Suitability maps are then constructed from these base maps using GIS and weighting methodologies (see figure).
When such maps are drawn for spatial policy purposes, they are usually preceded by a series of interactive sessions with policy-makers and other interested parties. TNO develops interactive GIS tools for such sessions that can be used to insert weighting factors, divergent plans and various scenarios into the map analysis during the session. The consequences of those variants can then be immediately seen on the maps. One example of this is the Maps4Planners tool described in the accompanying column