The Antwerp Port Authority has been campaigning for 12 shallow points to be dredged in the Scheldt for a number of years, thereby enabling tidal-independent navigation of ships with a draught of up to 13.10 m (43ft). Until now the Authority has been confident that “good neighbourliness” offered the best prospects for deepening the navigation channel.
It was on the basis that Flanders and the Antwerp port communities had been sympathetic to the Dutch demands and preconditions to meet the Belgian, Flemish and Antwerp requests for dredging. This in turn led to constructive collaboration in drawing up a long-term vision for the Western Scheldt until 2030.
However, the start of the project has been repeatedly delayed and in December 2005, when the ‘Scheldt Treaties’ were signed, it was believed that the project would go ahead.
The Council of State decision comes after a “twin track decision” taken by the Dutch government some months ago concerning nature conservation measures, which the Antwerp Port Authority claims is ‘already in flagrant violation of the treaties’ and which 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 dredging to 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 work going on the Dutch side,” says port alderman Marc Van Peel, adding “Given the economic importance both for Antwerp and for Flanders, we can no longer look on patiently and wait.”
Van Peel says he will urge the new Flemish government to take “all necessary steps with the Netherlands, without delay” to get work started.
He stated that the Antwerp port community is to lobby the Dutch government to demonstrate the ‘political will’ to comply with the agreements made in 2005, as this new delay is liable to compromise the competitiveness of Antwerp.