Harelbeke celebrates renewal of the Leie river


The town in West Flanders took the opportunity to launch an urban renewal project when ground broke on shipping infrastructure works


Plans to open up the Leie river to heavy shipping took a step forward at the weekend with the formal completion of engineering and urban renewal work at Harelbeke in West Flanders. Town residents came out to celebrate completion of the work, which has been underway for five years.

The plan is to give ships weighing up to 4,500 tonnes a smooth passage between the North Sea ports, via the river Scheldt in Belgium through to the river Seine in France. This will provide an alternative to freight transport on the roads.

Harelbeke is important because it lies at the intersection of the Leie and the Bossuit-Kortrijk canal. Engineering work to open up this part of the river to heavy shipping has included enlarging the Harelbeke lock and raising bridges over the river to accommodate bigger ships.

Meanwhile, a new weir has been built near the lock to maintain water levels. This generates its own energy and features a passage to allow fish to move up and downstream unhindered. A footbridge over the weir gives a vantage point for walkers.

Where the Leie used to be tucked away behind buildings, today it once again has a central place

- Mayor Alain Top

At the same time as this engineering work, an urban renewal project has been carried out to bring the river more into the life of the town. “Where the Leie used to be tucked away behind buildings, today it once again has a central place,” said Harelbeke mayor Alain Top. “The river is visible again in the centre of town and provides a space for recreation.”

A bridge has been built for cyclists, trees have been planted and new footpaths laid along the river, together with benches and other street fittings. The work has also reconnected the Oude Leie – an isolated meander that used to be home to several water mills – with the main course of the river, opening up new possibilities for recreation and development.

The town of Harelbeke has invested some €2 million in the project, while Flanders has put €100 million into the civil engineering work. The whole Scheldt-Seine project, which is heavily subsidised by the European Union, is expected to be completed by 2030.

Photo courtesy Vlaamse Waterweg