Speech by Delta Commissioner Wim Kuijken, at the completion of the retaining wall in Harlingen, on Tuesday 24 August 2010

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today is a special day. The completion of the flood defence retaining wall here in Harlingen constitutes the final piece of the Delta Plan. The Delta Plan, comprising the delta works and raising the sea dikes to the level of the delta, was an enormous project begun after the storm surge of 1953. It was completed over a period of several decades. This last piece has a special history.

Although it would be difficult for many of you to imagine, the original plan included the reclamation of the entire Wadden Sea. A smooth Dutch coast line was meant to hold back the sea. The programme of the first Delta Commission was reactive. In 1953, the Netherlands experienced a terrible disaster and the government swiftly and vigorously took on its responsibility. Whatever the cost, safety had to be guaranteed. Earlier, in 1916, a similar event had led to the construction of the Afsluitdijk (Closure Dike) in 1932.

Ultimately, reclaiming the Wadden Sea proved unnecessary so that we can still enjoy this wonderful area of natural beauty. However, as a primary flood defence, the dike at Harlingen did have to be brought up to the level of the delta. That has now been done, in part through your efforts. In the early 1990s, an administrative action group Basalth was necessary to this end. I am aware that the work was an inconvenience for many. But the result counts: that vital interests are now protected (life and the economy)!

Ladies and gentlemen, I am standing before you as the first government commissioner for the Delta Programme. Together, we are preparing the delta works of the future. A few years ago, the Veerman Committee, the second Delta Commission, recommended that a new large-scale effort needed to be made to keep the Netherlands safe in the centuries ahead.

The new safety issue does not arise from a disaster. On the contrary, in the Delta Programme we are currently working together in anticipation of a possible disaster. Climate change, rising temperatures and sea levels and subsidence, as well as the possibility of more frequent periods of drought or heavy rainfall in the future, mean that taking action is a necessity. Today, we have more to protect than we did fifty years ago (more people, more goods).

If we do nothing, we will be at risk, including economically. I am therefore assuming that the Delta Act in which the conditions are set out for acting in anticipation of the next disaster, will be handled swiftly by the Lower House. Especially given that we want to act ahead of a possible disaster, we will need time to find solutions that offer room for linking other issues to that of safety. For example, issues that are related to our spatial planning, nature and recreation, and economic development. By incorporating such issues into the approach to safety and by working in a more region-oriented manner, we can work towards ensuring a Netherlands that is not only safer, but also beautiful and appealing. It is a more complex approach, and we need to keep up the pace. As Delta Commissioner, I will try and ensure this.

In as far as possible, we work with flexible and adaptive measures, but in the coming three years, we will also be preparing larger measures for the decades ahead, should it be necessary. And we are doing this together. The Delta Programme is a national programme in which the national government, the provinces, the municipalities, water boards, the business community and civil society organisations are working in close cooperation. It is a programme that belongs to us all and is for us all.

I would like to congratulate you on this final – late addition – piece of the Delta Plan, this wonderful retaining wall in Harlingen. This is both a historic moment and a bridge to the future. And that is why I am honoured, as Delta Commissioner, in the presence of you all, to perform this act today that, literally and metaphorically, links the delta works of yesterday to the Delta Programme, the delta works of the future. The first delta programme with plans for our current and future safety and ensuring our future freshwater supply, will be submitted to the Lower House on Prinsjesdag (the state opening of Parliament). With the political courage to make decisions and the leadership to prepare for and implement decisions, we can ensure that the Netherlands is and will remain safe and attractive, today and in the future.

The Harlingen flood defence retaining wall is now 'ready for use'. Harlingen and the surrounding area are now protected against extremely high water, safety is ensured. I will shortly be performing the relevant action.

Thank you for your attention.