The port of Antwerp: Past, present and future

Expats working at the port of Antwerp

The Port of Antwerp is one of Europe’s biggest trade hubs and is currently the fastest growing in the European Economic Area. For many centuries, the port has been a nerve centre for European trade, so with its rich history and with big ambitions for the future, this post will look at the port and its key role in the European Union.

Table of Contents

Historically the Port of Antwerp has always been a core focus of European trade.

Since the 12th century (the earliest evidence of the port) the port has been an epicentre of European trade, exporting wine from Germany to England and growing with the increase in trade of products such as cloth and wool.

Antwerp is not a coastal city and the port is located 80km inland on the Scheldt river, historically ships would sail up the river to Antwerp, and have to take into account the tide or become beached.* The Port of Antwerp has been recognised as a key strategic location by every empire in Europe since the 15th century, it has brought the riches of the world to Europe and continues to do so, only now as a world-leading international seaport.

Since 1863 following the industrial revolution, the port has continued to expand to north and west, with many key decisions being made over the years that resulted in greater output and more shipping passing through the port. In 1956 the creation of the Zandvliet lock, the biggest in the world at its time (it’s now the Kieldrecht lock, still in the Port of Antwerp) allowed for massive container ships to enter the port.

Economic potential through key investment in infrastructure

Nowadays the port handles over 214 million tonnes of freight each year, and some of the biggest companies in the world are developing their businesses with the help of the dedicated 1600 staff who work there.

With the increase in output from the port, Antwerp is chasing to develop local infrastructure to accommodate an ever-growing number of workers and residents in the city. Investment in real estate is one of the key factors of the success of the city but this, in turn, means more expenditure on local services; all of this gives Antwerp a great opportunity to lead the way in modern city-wide technological infrastructure.

Huge investment both in the Port of Antwerp and the city itself have upgraded the roads and transport links required to ease traffic to the port further increasing the attractiveness of the city for foreign investment.

Antwerp is leading the way in development as a Smart City. With Smart Buildings incorporating green technology to provide energy efficiency and sustainability. With some of the biggest companies in the world based out of the Port of Antwerp, there is a real need to provide sufficient innovation and eco-friendly neighbourhoods to make the city an attractive place for young entrepreneurs and skilled workers. Implemented in 2010, the 2020 Master Plan was focussed on developing the city in 3 key areas:

– Fewer traffic jams
– Safer Roads
– More liveable areas on the outskirts of the city

Antwerp is not standing still - it is addressing the key challenges to maintain a competitive advantage

Following the 2020 Master Plan, the Port of Antwerp is heavily invested in upgrading the road network around the port, which at current is not up to the task and causes traffic jams at hotspots where the Scheldt has to be crossed.

Looking directly at the challenges of the future and preparing for future innovation is one of the most important methods to stay ahead of the curve. The Logistics of the Future world conference, experts came together to address the challenges of maritime industry tackling subjects from cybersecurity to berth management.

To become truly international, Antwerp needs to be ambitious to allow for the types of infrastructure common to global trade hubs. This means an increase in population and it is through ambition and a desire to grow that this will happen. Antwerp is forward-looking and modern. With safeguarded green zones and a real effort to grow in the arts and in entertainment, Antwerp will bring in the foreign skills required to make the city a global capital.

The local council are very aware of areas which will be key to future growth and the Internet of Things (IoT) is one of these. With an infrastructure in place that is able to cope with the installation of IoT applications and buildings. This will offer a huge possibility for further efficiency through analysis of behaviour and expenditure. As the Antwerp government knows; “what isn’t measured can’t be improved.”

There are few cities in the world that find themselves at this crossroad, a bright future, high investment and with money to spend. It could be Antwerp is the testbed for many of the innovations we will see around the world in the coming years.

*In 2010 a project was undertaken to deepen the river to accommodate modern super-tankers.

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