A seven year battle over flooding a piece of land on the Westerschelde estuary in Zeeland came a step nearer concluding on Thursday, according to media reports.
The European Commission has agreed with a compromise proposal about breaking the dykes around the Hedwige polder to create a new area for wildlife, junior farm minister Henk Bleker told MPs on Thursday afternoon.
Brussels had insisted the entire Hedwige polder be put under water to compensate for nature lost by deepening the Westerschelde estuary. The decision to flood the polder was first taken in 2005 as part of an agreement between the Netherlands and Belgium. But the new government did a u-turn on the plan, forcing Bleker to look for an alternative.
150 football pitches
Now Bleker is suggesting flooding one third of the polder – an area the size of around 150 football pitches, plus a couple of other pieces of land and a golf course.
Bleker told MPs European commissioner Janez Potocnik regards the revised plans as the ‘ecological equivalent’ of flooding the entire polder. However, a spokesman for Potocnick told the Telegraaf later that the commissioner has not yet said yes and still some doubts.
The Zeeland provincial council has also agreed to the revised plans in a bid to settle the argument once and for all. ‘After seven years, it is time to end this discussion,’ local officials said in a letter to Bleker.
MPs, however, are not so happy, although earlier opposition to the compromise from CDA and PVV parliamentarians appeared to disappear during Thursday’s debate. CDA spokesman Ad Koppejan said that while the compromise ‘hurt’, his party was prepared to agree.
And the PVV, which had threated to vote against Bleker, now says it will also vote in favour, if the people of Zeeland accept the move in a referendum.
Opposition MPs accused both parties of cowardice.
In addition, the Telegraaf reports that Belgium will refuse to pay its share of the cost if the Netherlands only floods part of the polder – and that could cost the government an extra €62m.
Belgium was due to pay between €62m and €80m towards the cost of the work, such as building new dykes. Now the plan has changed ‘the Netherlands can whistle for its money’, Flemish MP Bart Martens is quoted as saying.
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