21 – The relationship with Urk and Overijssel: animosity and dependency

The Noordoostpolder borders on Friesland and Overijssel. The border with Overijssel is almost four times as long as that with Friesland. Moreover Zwolle, Overijssel’s capital, is relatively close to the Noordoostpolder. Other important Overijssel towns such as Kampen and Steenwijk are nearby. And the polder was cultivated from Zwolle and Kampen. So it was no surprise that the Noordoostpolder oriented itself toward Overijssel for a while. From 1962 to 1986 the polder was even a part of this province. The North-Holland village of Urk bordered on the new polder after its drainage. The former island was transferred to Overijssel in 1950.

The Zuiderzee coast of Overijssel 

From Lemmer to Blokzijl the Noordoostpolder borders directly on the former Zuiderzee coast. Vollenhove was the first large Overijssel fishing town to be cut off from the new Ijsselmeer. After the construction of the Afsluitdijk, completed in 1932, the number of Vollenhoven fishermen had already decreased. 

’Vollenhoven fishermen sail out to go fishing’; view of the former outer harbour, date unknown

De Vollenhoven inner harbour with the ‘fortress’, the fishermen’s dwellings that constituted the Oldehuysplein. 1915.

The old harbour of Vollenhove

Whereas the Vollenhoven fleet had consisted of 64 in 1930, by 1939 the number had decreased to 43. After the drainage of the Noordoostpolder the demise of fishing continued. In September 1971 the last Vollenhoven fisherman quit.

The De Boer brothers of Vollenhove, former Schokker fishermen, 1970.

Kuinre, too, was cut off from the Ijsselmeer by the construction of the Noordoostpolder. The town had been lying on the mouth of the rivers Linde and Tjonger for centuries, resulting in busy shipping traffic on this part of the Ijsselmeer. Since 1943 Kuinre’s harbour and jetties are on dry land. The fact that the Noordoostpolder has no border lakes on the east side (with the exception of the small Vollenhovermeer and Kadoelermeer) is considered a planning error today. The agricultural area along the former Zuiderzee coast suffered a lot from the dropping of ground water levels and soil compaction. The government paid damages to the duped farmers in the ‘old country’.

Kuinre pier on dry land, 2008.

Management and governance

The Noordoostpolder was drained during the German occupation. The government had not yet decided on the administrative management of the polder grounds before the war. Both Overijssel and Friesland claimed the new piece of the Netherlands. In September 1940 a study committee created by the Overijssel Provincial Executive published a report. This report claimed that it would be logical from a social-economic and geographical point of view to allot the polder to Overijssel. Overijssel won the argument. In 1941 the Board was moved from Alkmaar to Zwolle. The Board was accommodated in the Flevo Building, a former technical school on the Menno van Coehoornsingel. The agricultural department settled in Kampen, as this town is closer to the polder than Zwolle.

Social-economic relations

In 1940, the committee created by the Overijssel Provincial Executive had predicted that the polder inhabitants would orient themselves mainly to Overijssel. This prediction was proven true to a great extent. Especially during the first phase of settlement the polder inhabitants used facilities (shops, schools and hospitals) on Overijssel’s mainland.

Ens, 1954.

For a while, Kampen was important to provide for Ens and the surrounding area. Polder inhabitants also used the emergency hospital the Board had built near Vollenhove. As the level of provision in the polder improved, towns such as Zwolle and Kampen became less important.

The emergency hospital for the polder workers in Vollenhove until the Dokter J.H. Jansen Hospital was completed in 1967 (1948).

Reversely, inhabitants of northern Overijssel made use of certain facilities in the polder. The Noordoostpolder offered employment to inhabitants of north-western Overijssel. The Zwijndrecht firm NV Schokbeton built a factory in Kampen in 1947, which supplied many assembly sheds to the Board (see also window 16). Many workers from the mainland also worked in the new land.

Relations with Urk

The North-Holland island of Urk was ‘confiscated’ by the Noordoostpolder. After the German occupation relations were bad between Urk and the polder.

Urk, still an island.

A man and a woman in Urk traditional costume are watching the construction of the dike from Lemmer to Urk, as a result of which Urk will stop being an island. Urk, 1936. The start of the construction of the Noordoostpolder.

Closing the last gap in the dike between Lemmer en Urk, 1939

See also film: As a result, Urk stopped being an island a result, Urk stopped being an island

The connecting road to Urk was opened on Wednesday 19 May 1948. The festive opening was organised by Urk, which is why the wife of the Queen’s Commissioner of North-Holland was allowed to do the festive opening.

Magistrate S, Smeding refused to honour the request of the Urk mayor G. Keijzer to concede plots of polder land to Urk for the sake of housing. According to Keijzer, the magistrate considered Urk an ‘undesired part of the Noordoostpolder’, which he preferred to abandon to its fate. Eventually, Smeding did agree with the transfer of one hundred hectares of land to Urk.

The Urk lighthouse

Film: On Urk; an homage to those who died at sea. An homage with a song and a poem,

The law on this transfer of land also ruled that Urk was to be transferred to Overijssel. That law came into force on 1 April 1950. After 1950, more polder land was added to Urk. What was beneficial to Urk was that the village acquired good connections with Kampen and Zwolle via the polder.

Lub and Deborah Romkes during Urk day 3 June 2006. From 'Oenze aigen bult dor in die vlakke polder', Maaike van der Gaag, 2009.

Provincial restructuring

The new municipality of Noordoostpolder was allotted to Overijssel in 1962. The relationship between Emmeloord and ‘Zwolle’ was difficult. The Overijssel provincial government paid little attention to the problems the young municipality was struggling with, including the exodus of some polder villages. In some polder villages, construction was even temporarily frozen. Discontent grew among polder administrators about their province’s policy.

Official visit of the members of the Overijssel Provincial Executive to the Noordoostpolder. The company in front of the Prof. Ter Veen Lyceum in Emmeloord, 1962.

In the 1970s the formation of a polder province was discussed. J.C.J. Lammers, magistrate of the public body Zuidelijke IJsselmeerpolders, tried to involve Urk and Noordoostpolder in these plans. Initially both municipalities refused to commit. In early 1982 minister of the Interior E. van Thijn said he was prepared to cooperate on the creation of a polder province (see also window 29).

Province of Flevoland

R.S. Hofstee Holtrop, the mayor of the Noordoostpolder, was enthusiastic about a province of Flevoland. He managed to get the town council behind him. On Urk there were severe doubts, but the local authorities realised that Urk’s fate was strongly linked to that of the Noordoostpolder. For this reason, the inhabitants of Urk were prepared to make the transition to Flevoland. In 1986 the Noordoostpolder and Urk were joined to the twelfth province.

The province of Flevoland is a fact. On 9 January 1986 Han Lammers left the official act to Queen Beatrix.

Now, 25 years later, collaboration and reinforcing each other is commonplace. This is true for Urk and the Noordoostpolder, but also beyond. Now, a different battle is fought: the struggle for the survival of the province of Flevoland (see also window 29).