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Verdict: Fairway adjustment will come

Court names points for alleviation - deepening Elbe river is port's top expansion project

A verdict returned Thursday (February 9, 2017) by the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig has stressed the necessity of adjusting the fairway of the Elbe river. Afterwards, Hamburg’s State Ministry of Economy, Transport and Innovation, said in a statement: “The fairway adjustment will come. The court’s verdict has settled the most important questions for the procedure. Now, Hamburg and the (German) government must supplement the procedure.”

The protection of the endemic “Hemlock Water Dropwort” plant, which is a highly threatened species, must be improved. A closer examination of the court’s instructions will impact the form of protection and decide the length of the delay. The court had criticised parts of the planning approval decision on ensuring coherence. However, the court also stressed that these deficiencies could be remedied and would not mean cancelling the planning approval.

Grounds for judgment

The other objections brought by the plaintiffs are not valid, the court said, adding in the press release: “The planning approval noticec suffer from neither notable procedural shortcomings nor additional germane legal errors. Renewed public participation in the supplementary proceeedings was also not required. There are no objections to the Federal Waterways Engineering and Research Institute’s forecasts on the hydro and morphodynamic repercussions of the project. In planning terms, the project is justified, since in view of the trend in ship sizes, the planning authorities may assume a corresponding requirement for traffic.”

The plan approval authority had rejected the possibility of serious, adverse effects on other protected species such as twaite shad (Allosa fallax) or breeding birds. “Examination of alternatives in terms of habitat protection law also raised no objections, while those behind the project do not need to quote names in citing co-operation with ports. The project neither infringes the legal ban on water deterioration nor does it conflict with the requirement for improvement. Possible effects mainly on the primarily determinant biological quality components are not so serious that they would cause any degradation in the sense of judgements by the European Court of Justice.”

Horch: “We have been deemed right”

The fairway adjustment is presently the most strategic expansion project in the Port of Hamburg. “Some of the expounded legal issues have broken new legal ground. The first legal framework for managing and protecting waterways across Germany is now available in writing. The seaward access to Hamburg’s harbour must be adjusted in the long term to technical developments in view of rapidly growing ships,” the State Ministry said, adding, “That is the only way of ensuring that Hamburg’s seaward access is economically viable and that the harbour remains competitive.”

Frank Horch, Senator for Economics, said: “Now we finally have legal certainty. We have been deemed right. Yet, even if we have to extend the fundamentals for approval on account of the enhanced demands ofenvironmental legislation, there is no doubt that the fairway adjustment will come.” The Port of Hamburg remains a key powerhouse of growth that has created more than 150,000 jobs in northern Germany alone. “It is an important global port and a hub for all of Germany and offers all the required services for goods transport. Today’s decision has cost time unfortunately. Now, we will have to plan the next steps and implement them as quickly as possible,” Horch added.

Requirements must be met quickly, says Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce

Commenting on the verdict, Fritz Horst Melsheimer, Chairman of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, said: “Commerce in Hamburg acknowledges today’s verdict by the Federal Administrative Court with mixed feelings.” He added: “The plan approval decision remains. The deficiencies can be alleviated, the court said. The question is whether the requirements can be met in a timely manner. The answer to that will decide the fate of our port. The tough, 15-year struggle, to me, shows the importance of fundamentally reforming the entire German planning permission law. That is the only way of ensuring that our country remains competitive in future.”

Nordmetall – regrettable delays

Dr. Nico Fickinger, Managing Director of Nordmetall, said: “The north German metal and electrical industries welcome the fact that a fundamental fairway adjustment of the Elbe can be expected following the verdict returned today by the Federal Administrative Court. However, more regrettable delays are likely at first until issues relating to protecting plant species, pointed out by the court, have been alleviated. For industries that are particularly reliant on exports and especially in politically troubling times, as a trade route to world, the Elbe must become more navigable in the long run.”

Sources and further information:
Behörde für Wirtschaft, Verkehr und Innovation

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