Case study of the great market in Groningen
In February 2001, the municipality of the city of Groningen held a referendum to renovate the great market in the old historic centre to build a parking lot underneath the market square. The public responded en masse and the no-voters amounted to 81%. The no-votes were mostly angry at the city officials for their arrogance during the process. The officials were all in favour. It was a confrontation between the people and the city council.
The underground parking meant the return of cars in the centre that were mostly banned earlier. A different parking project in the vicinity was delayed and had cost a fortune. But the final and most influential argument against development was the slight chance that the old church tower, the Martini tower, would suffer some subsidence. Despite all the technical reports that this would hardly or not be the case, the chance of subsidence filled the public with great emotion and was not to be overcome. It became the very image of the protest movement. Posters were produced of a sliding Martini tower.
The archaeologists were staggered. In their view the underground parking would have destroyed the old church yard from the early medieval period onwards, containing thousands of burials and harbouring a treasure of information. But this argument played no role whatsoever. The reason was probably the lack of an archaeological lobby at the time. The renovation plan was cancelled. The city council had misjudged the public engagement and was blinded by the economic arguments. They had to start from scratch with a public debate.