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Press release Doel 2020, Februari 15, 2018

Flemish Minister announces port expansion of Antwerp but experts doubt its feasibility

Belgium: Saefthinghedock Port of Antwerp will probably never be build

Last week Flemish minister Ben Weyts (Mobility and Public Construction) informed that he is an advocate for a 'Saefthinghedock Light' nearby and in Doel, the village beside the Port of Antwerp in Belgium. This should serve to take in the expected container capacity. But specialists are having doubt whether this dock is feasible or even necessary at all. Moreover the plan seems to be especially serving one shipping company: MSC. For many years already, the Flemish Government has been trying to get plans approved for the Saefthingedock. Therefore however the historical village of Doel must vanish and also the exceptional heritage landscape around Doel is threatened and would have to dissapear. The past 20 years all plans to destroy the village have failed. They have failed because of the resistance of the residents. But also because at every turn the Saefthingdock collided with objections of Europe and the Council of State, Belgium's highest court.

Currently, for over a year a broad research has been conducted to the possibilities for additional container capacity in the Port of Antwerp . This research started because earlier attempts to realise this dock were rejected by the court every time. Most of all, out of this research it emerges that the several varieties of a Saefthinghedock are scoring badly on both the Water Framework Directive and towards European nature legislation as well (article 6.4). So by Europe the exception-procedure should be followed twice. The researchers estimate the chance very small for success for a project with a double exception-procedure. Besides a great uncertainty exists around the hydro-morfological effects of this new dock.

For professor Dirk Lauwers (University of Antwerp) there is also a great problem with the operation ability of the dock, because the conditions for a smooth flow to the hinterland haven't been met. According to Lauwers the impact of these alternatives on mobility is also estimated much too lightly. Even the effect of the traffic jam value (length and duration) remains out of view. Just as the fact that on Antwerps Ringroad a traffic jam appears up from an occupation of 60%. Traffic nowadays is queuing for hours around Antwerps almost on a daily basis...

The Flemish government wants to tackle this problem by inserting on modal shift. But for this the infrastructure is often missing. Like the estimated rising of 37% to 42% for inland shipping, which is materially impossible unless a lot investments go to multi-modal platforms in the hinterland. But there is no such money. According to several scientists there is currentlly inadequate monitoring on how the modal shift evolves. The view prevails that the modal split rather inverts and freight traffic increases even more, which in case of further expansion of the Port of Antwerp would cause a complete standstill.

Serious considerations to the Saefthinghedock are also made by Electrabel, manager of the Nuclear Powerplant in Doel, and the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC). They warn of increased risks for nuclear safety. Both when constructing and operating the dock. It seems strongly that the Government of Flanders completely ignores these potential risks.

Finally, the question can be asked whether the entire plan to increase the container capacity is not a glare, organized by the Antwerp port authorities. (Harbor) economists from the University of Leuven and from the Netherlands are having serious reservations about the expected employment benefits. They are also of the opinion that the container traffic forecasts are too optimistic. Even for the 'low growth' scenario, an annual growth rate of 3% is used! The use of indirect benefits also ensures that the assumed yields can be greatly overestimated. Conclusion of the economists: the cost-benefit analysis is based on too positive assumptions and does not sufficiently reflect reality.

Last week, the court issued a ban on demolishing the 17th century High House in Doel. The Flemish Government wanted to have the protected monument demolished to rebuild it elsewhere. In the eyes of the Government, that would be one obstacle less. But the court also put a stop to this. It does not look like Antwerp will soon get its container dock.

Citizens committee D2020