IJmuiden sea lock: how the Port of Amsterdam defended its strong position with smart stakeholder management

In early 2022, the festive opening of the IJmuiden sea lock took place. With a length of 500 metres, a width of 70 metres and a depth of 18 metres, it is the largest sea lock in the world. Its realisation was not without its struggles. We spoke to Dertje Meijer and Karin Waasdorp about how they got a headache dossier moving again after a quarter of a century.

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'There had been conversations on replacing the old lock since 1985,' Karin says. There was a stalemate between the four most important stakeholders: the municipality of Amsterdam, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, the province of North Holland and the port authority. The province and the port authority were in favour of a larger lock.'
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'The Ministry, however, thought that replacing the lock (dating from 1929!) was sufficient,' Dertje says.' To get out of this stalemate and to make it clear from the Port Authority that the old lock really is no longer sufficient if we don't want to lose our competitive position, we have pulled out all the stops to get all the parties together and to take a serious look at it. Just put your heads together until a decision is on the table. We have to remind everyone that we are the fourth largest port in Europe in terms of volume. A good lock is part and parcel of that.'

'Imagine that the old lock suddenly collapses because of war damage caused by a ship hitting it. Then you are out of business for months. So when it was discovered that we receive 8% of all shipping traffic in Europe, that we are much bigger than people thought, The Hague slowly started to change course. Of course, this did not happen overnight. We went along on the Ministry's trade missions. A Minister would accompany us, but large hydraulic engineering companies would also be present. And of course they are interested in building such a lock. So they talk about a new lock in the presence of the Minister. That's how the ball starts rolling. That's the first step in stakeholder management.'
'Only when it was discovered that we receive 8% of all shipping traffic in Europe, The Hague slowly changed course.'

Karin adds: 'At the same time we mobilised the trade associations and businesses in the port to exert some pressure. When the Ministry showed interest, we started talking to the Amsterdam aldermen. That is where we encountered the most resistance. There were three aldermen who were in charge: Van Poelgeest, Ossel and Wiebes. Ossel was in charge of port operations and at one point he was a real change of heart and an advocate for the lock. But we had to go to a lot of trouble to get Wiebes and Van Poelgeest on board. In the end we succeeded. But then we had to get the Ministry to agree to a larger lock.'

'Mayor Cohen then made a stand for us', Dertje continues. 'He was told at one point that Minister Eurlings was in the Concertgebouw. Cohen immediately got on his bicycle to talk to Eurlings. Things like that are invaluable. In addition, the municipality of Amsterdam and the province were on a collision course. So we had to play the role of moderator.'
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'Looking back at it, it was very interesting. But sometimes it took a lot of energy. We also had to get the civil servants on board. They are risk-averse and tend to look for reasons why something cannot be done. So you have to keep an eye on the backrooms. At one point, I received a text message from a colleague: Dertje, these and these are on the ropes and will soon form an opinion and I don't have a good feeling about it. I quickly went to look them up and my first words were: "You are talking about page 39. You are reading that wrong, you have to interpret it differently". Then they were so surprised that they had to listen to me. And finally there was a signature. You really had to be on top of things with your stakeholder management.'

'Rijkswaterstaat is primarily interested in the flood defences', Karin explains. And a lock is a breach of the water barrier, because an awful lot of salt water comes in and you have to get rid of it. So we put a lot of effort into convincing the Rijkswaterstaat to build a bigger lock. But in addition to stakeholder management on the content, you also had to come to an agreement together on the financing. It had been agreed that the municipality and the province would pay for the expansion, while the State saw it as a replacement investment. I also travelled to Brussels several times to see if we could get European funding.'
'Almost 10% of European trade passes through Amsterdam. So it would be a big problem if the port closes.'

'What we kept coming up against is that many people have the perception that the port does not play a significant role', Dertje concludes. 'That is because they never drive from Amsterdam to IJmuiden along the canal. Only then do you see how big the port is. I sometimes say that there is something good in that, because it shows how little nuisance we cause. But few people realise that almost 10% of European trade passes through Amsterdam. So if it were to suddenly close, you would have a big problem. The Mayor and Aldermen of Amsterdam are also insufficiently aware of this. And yet the port has been paying the city of Amsterdam over EUR 50 million in dividends for the past few years. That's a lot of money in a municipal budget.'