Heritage Netherlands

Historic Dutch country house at risk

Government plans to punch route through middle of 300-year-old estate

amstenrade. An important historic house and estate in Amstenrade, a small, semi-rural village in Limburg, the most southern province of the Netherlands, is under threat from a proposed motorway cutting across the province.

One of the few important country houses surviving in private hands in Limburg, Kasteel Amstenrade was built in the early 1780s on the site of an earlier castle, to the design of a Liège architect. The patron died before the house was finished, and one wing, and a second tower, were never built, but the interiors were sumptuously completed, a rare example of a late 18th- and early 19th-century Dutch interior. Notable are a striking entrance hall, a dining room with painted Arcadian scenes, and a floridly decorated Chinese bedroom. The charm of the house is enhanced by the early 19th-century garden, with its winding paths and original garden buildings.

In 1788, the estate came into the family of the builder’s niece, who was married to Count Claude d’Ansembourg. His descendant, Leila d’Ansembourg, inherited it in 2007. Unlike her late father, a diplomat, she lives permanently in the building. It can be visited by appointment, and the courtyard and rooms are frequently lent for use by local societies. The park is freely open to the public. The estate is held in the system known as Natuurschoonwet (clean nature law), by which the heirs are excused inheritance tax on land, in return for carrying out environmental improvements and admitting the public. Ms D’Ansembourg has been pursuing this policy, planting woods with financial support from the Province of Limburg.

However, the region is poor. According to Mat Snijders, a senior official in the government of Limburg, the province’s location—bordering Belgium and Germany—must be used to the best advantage. Limburg is close to the busy city of Aachen, just over the German border, which includes a population of 35,000 employees and students at its university alone, and is in a position to send people who cannot be locally accommodated to unused housing over the border. This will require the construction of a number of new roads, the largest of which—to be completed by 2015—runs right through the Amstenrade estate.

For Leila d’Ansembourg, the construction of the road will be traumatic. The local authority says it will run 800 metres from the house, but plans show it will be only 300 metres away, and for a substantial part it will be elevated. It will make living in the building unpleasant for environmental reasons, and financially difficult because it reduces the farmland available. Ms D’Ansembourg said: “Without the support of the farmers, it will be impossible for me to keep the house. Centuries of work and dedication will be brought to nothing. All efforts to keep it in one piece, to create a haven of green, will be ruined.”

The proposals have highlighted differences of opinion between the local authority and the Dutch equivalent of English Heritage. A senior figure at the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency said: “The ring road is touching the interests of the national landscape, the protected sights, built historic monuments and archaeological sites. This is a shrinking area in terms of population: it seems completely illogical to build a new ring road. But it has been decided on, and as long as the politicians and the business world see the value from their point of view, the heritage people seem unable to do anything to prevent it.”

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