As Feldhoven resident Peter Filsch looks out the window at his spacious south-facing garden, he sighs: ‘If ASML gets its way, we’d hardly have any sun in the living room during the winter months. Then we look at a gray box 20 meters high. We didn’t buy this house for that.
Phoelich (54), with more than a hundred households in the area, opposes the chip machine manufacturer’s recent expansion plan. Because in this plan the “clean rooms”, in which high-tech machines are produced, will be very close to a residential area in Veldhoven-Dorp.
We have nothing against ASML, on the contrary. I worked there myself for years and many of the neighbors still work there. And we understand they want to expand, says the employee and spokesperson for the TNO Population Committee. “But the arrogance with which they’re trying to push this plan through, like: We have to move on, there’s a huge shortage of microchips, we have to bail out the world economy with our machines — and it’s pissing us off.”
It is the countless expansion plan of the famous and widely successful chip machine manufacturer in Feldhoven, which has been constantly building and renovating since the turn of the century. There are always construction cranes on the ever-expanding site (“ASML Campus”) along the A67. But for the first time, ASML is facing local resistance, and the multinational will obviously have to get used to it.
The municipality of Veldhoven, which is growing and thriving (and has the lowest unemployment rates and highest expat rate in the region), should get used to this new phenomenon. So far, growth plans have almost always been a slam dunk in the city council and the company’s ambitions have never been put in the way.
But the “De Run 7000” expansion plan suddenly bombed into a “diabolical dilemma,” as it turned out Tuesday night during a well-attended town hall meeting. Not only is this believed to be responsible alderman Caroline van Praeckel (CDA), but also many councilors from both coalition and opposition parties use the term. It is a choice between the interests of a large global corporation and the interests of a small village neighborhood.
Local residents, who filed a total of 64 objections to the expansion plan earlier this year, have three main objections: building height, nuisance and noise. Initially, ASML wanted to build buildings that could reach 30 meters in height. After the protests of the residents and in consultation with the municipality, the height of this building was already set at 20 metres, albeit with some “options”.
“But this is still too loud and gives too much of a shadow effect,” says Phoelich on behalf of the population committee. The committee wants the buildings to be a maximum of 15 meters high, but this is “technically impossible”, according to ASML. According to the company, building the chip machines, which are about the size of a touring car, simply required more height. “We’re assuming 20 metres, maybe a little more,” says Theon Wartenberg, ASML’s head of real estate, at a special city council consultation evening.
The population committee suggested only walking five meters into the ground, but according to ASML, this is not possible due to the extreme sensitivity of the production process. “Of course they can — ASML can do anything,” quipped speaker Vulich. “But they don’t want to because it costs a lot of effort and money.”
This idea is also present in the city council. “ASML is known for its ability to think creatively,” explains a D66 board member. “Also allow them to use that for a maximum building height of 15 metres.”
During the sharing evening, local resident Hanneke van Cootwijk shows a photo she took on Saturday evening at 11pm of the ASML campus, with its many brightly lit buildings. “I wouldn’t have to light the lamp myself,” she says. “Very intense if this is a relative a short distance from our house.”
The company promised to tackle light pollution. This week, one building remained dark in the evening and at night. “Lighting has our full attention,” says an ASML spokesperson. We also ask ourselves: Why are all these lights on? It is now being considered. The group is also studying how noise disturbance can be reduced, for example by moving the noise limit.
For the municipal executive of Veldhoven, the amendments and promises are reason enough to give the expansion plan the go-ahead “after all interests are taken into account”. “They’ve made strong contributions to the neighborhood and really try to be a good neighbour,” says alderman Van Brakel. “And if ASML says about building height: It is not technically feasible, then we have to trust them, because we do not have technical knowledge about this ourselves.”
Many parties in the city council, which will ultimately have to decide next month, are still struggling to balance interests. There is also a mistrust of the council, because it didn’t seem at first that ASML took neighborhood consultation seriously (called the “participation process” in jargon). Even alderman Van Brackel concedes that trust between the neighborhood and the company has “dropped below freezing point” as a result.
The same group confirms that buildings of different heights and plenty of green space between them will be built on the company’s new site. A spokesman for the company confirmed that “there will not be a large gray giant 20 meters high and 350 meters wide next to the road opposite the neighborhood.” ‘There is a staggered build.’ The tallest buildings will be along the A67, the lowest level near the residential area, with a green strip between them.
“The Big Friendly Giant”
A CDA council member claims to have a strong sense of “Calimero against the mighty giant” during a council meeting. You wonder, “Is there a big friendly giant out there?”
ASML itself is horrified by that comparison. “It’s not David vs. Goliath,” a spokesperson said. “We take the local residents’ objections very seriously and have already greatly modified our plans.”
However, it is inconceivable that the Municipal Council of Veldhoven (45,000 inhabitants) would thwart the expansion plan. ASML – with a worldwide turnover of €19 billion, 32,000 employees (about half of them in Veldhoven) – seems simply too big and too strong for that.
“ASML’s will is the law, and this has been the case in Veldhoven for years,” says Phoelich. “It falters, with every expansion the small businesses and houses that stand in the way are bought up. But now it’s so close to our neighborhood. Then they also have to show their human side for once. If that doesn’t happen, we wouldn’t even rule out going to the State Council.”
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