Dutch Council of State suspends routing decree on Western Scheldt

Industry Database

Last week the Council of State in the Netherlands suspended the routing decree and one of the implementation permits for deepening the navigation channel in the Western Scheldt. The routing decree covers deepening of the Western Scheldt at 12 shallow points that are currently not deep enough for the largest ships.

Dutch Council of State suspends routing decree on Western Scheldt

For the port of Antwerp, which has long pleaded for deepening so as to afford tide-independent navigation for ships with a draft of up to 43 ft. (13.10 metres), this project is of crucial importance for further economic development. Antwerp Port Authority has until now always had confidence that "good neighbourliness" offered the best prospects for deepening the navigation channel in the Western Scheldt.

Indeed, it was on the basis of such a "good neighbours" policy that Flanders and the Antwerp port community have always had sympathy for the Dutch demands and preconditions that met the Belgian, Flemish and Antwerp requests for deepening. This led to constructive collaboration in drawing up a long-term vision for the Western Scheldt until 2030. The same applied when it came to developing and defining the 2010 Development Sketch.

In the meantime, the moment of the first "spade in the ground" was repeatedly put back. When at last the Scheldt Treaties were ceremonially signed on 20 December 2005 this seemed to be the happy end of a long and weary road. How wrong that was. The spade has been thrust into Flemish ground, but is still innocent of Dutch soil. The suspension by the Dutch Council of State is felt all the more keenly as it comes after the "twin track decision" taken by the Dutch government several months ago concerning nature conservation measures.

This decision was already in violation of the treaties on the point that has now led to the suspension by the Council of State. Antwerp Port Authority now expects the Netherlands to carry out the necessary restoration work without delay, so as to enable the deepening work to actually go ahead, not on the basis of good neighbourliness but out of full respect for the treaties ratified by both parties and both parliaments.

"Good neighbourliness and mutual confidence are clearly not enough to get spadework going on the Dutch side. But given the economic importance both for Antwerp and for Flanders, we can no longer look on patiently and wait," says port alderman Marc Van Peel. Referring to the Flemish government agreement, he will urge the new Flemish government to take "all necessary steps with the Netherlands, without delay" to get work started on deepening the Scheldt. In the meantime, the Antwerp port community asks the Dutch government to demonstrate the necessary political will to comply with the agreements made in 2005, as the new delay in the Netherlands is liable to compromise the competitiveness of Antwerp, the second-largest port in Europe, along with the 180,000 direct and indirect jobs that it creates.

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