Former PM denies ultimatum over high-speed line

10th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

10 September 2004 , AMSTERDAM — Former Dutch prime minister Wim Kok denied on Friday he gave an ultimatum to his Labour PvdA MPs to force them to support the official plans for the construction of the HSL high-speed train line.

 10 September 2004

AMSTERDAM — Former Dutch prime minister Wim Kok denied on Friday he gave an ultimatum to his Labour PvdA MPs to force them to support the official plans for the construction of the HSL high-speed train line.

In addressing a special commission set up to investigate budgetary breaches of large Dutch infrastructure projects, Kok also denied as "nonsense" claims from PvdA MP Peter van Heemst that he had threatened the party in 1996 with a Cabinet crisis.

According to Van Heemst, the prime minister had "grumbled" about the project, telling the MP that he would take the matter up with Queen Beatrix, newspaper De Volkskrant reported.

Kok said he "did not remember these words", but admitted that he might have made the remark because he was not "as sunny then as he is now". He also admitted he had spoken with Van Heemst about the HSL South line, the high-speed train line between Amsterdam and Brussels.

He also said that he had made it clear to the MP that the project was very important to the PvdA, Liberal VVD and Democrat D66 coalition cabinet.

After his discussion with Kok, Van Heemst withdrew his motion from the Dutch Parliament supporting an alternative route for the line. The motion could have gained a parliamentary majority.

The cabinet backed the decision to route the train line through the so-called Green Heart — the relatively unpopulated centre of the Randstad bordered by the four largest Dutch cities, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht.

The alternative route — dubbed the Bos route — would have added an extra two years onto the construction of the line and make it much more expensive.

But to protect the environment in the Green heart, the cabinet opted to build a 9km-long tunnel, which made the project EUR 900 million more expensive anyway.

Within the cabinet, the then VVD transport minister Annemarie Jorritsma had urged for the construction of the HSL in what she called "the edge of the Green Heart".

PvdA spatial planning minister Margaretha de Boer was initially in favour of the Bos route, but also found positives in building a tunnel through the centre of the region.

The special Duivesteijn Commission was set up late last year to investigate infrastructure budget breaches on large scale projects such as the HSL.

The commission was set up when it emerged that the Betuwelijn freight train route between the Netherlands and Germany would cost at least EUR 6 billion, six times higher than budgeted.

Meanwhile, the Dutch competition watchdog NMa claims to have identified breaches of competition laws in the construction of the HSL and Betuwelijn rail routes, newspaper De Telegraaf reported.

The NMa will draw up a report in a couple of weeks and the involved companies will be given the chance to respond, a spokeswoman said on Friday.

If the NMa proves after all formalities that breaches of the competition law were committed, the companies can be fined 10 percent of the returns. The total amount of returns is estimated at almost EUR 12 billion.

[Copyright Expatica News 2004]

Subject: Dutch news

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