No further demolition of Doel in new port expansion plan

Summary

Flemish mobility minister Ben Weyts has announced a new plan for the expansion of container space at the port of Antwerp that avoids further damage to the once-doomed village of Doel

What’s next for Doel?

The government of Flanders has drafted development plans for the expansion of the port of Antwerp that does not include the further destruction of the village of Doel. The proposal follows more than 50 years of controversy and protest against the port expanding into the area, which would have wiped Doel from the map.

Doel is a district of Beveren in East Flanders, on the left bank of the Scheldt river. The government of Flanders and the Antwerp Port Authority made plans back in the 1970s to build a new dock, the Saeftinghe, on the Scheldt at Doel. That meant moving out the few hundred residents and demolishing all homes and businesses.

Most of Doel’s residents have moved out, their properties bought up by Maatschappij Linkerscheldeoever, the public agency put in charge of managing the property. But there have always been protests against demolishing the village, with a handful of residents refusing to leave and protesters from elsewhere moving into the town and living in abandoned properties.

Court decision

Citizen’s group Doel 2020 has lodged legal complaints against the plans and finally, in 2016, the Council of State ruled that the expansion could not go through. The decision was based not on the destruction of the village specifically but on the lack of compensation for the loss of natural habitat in the area.

Ben Weyts, Flanders’ minister of mobility and public works, has now announced that capacity for seven million more containers will be created without infringing on Doel. Changes will be made to existing infrastructure to increase container space, including an expansion of the North Sea terminal on the Antwerp side of Scheldt, north of Doel.

New terminals will be built at the Noordelijk Insteek dock as well as just west of it in the Waasland Canal. In addition, a new dock is planned, though much smaller than the Saeftinghe originally planned for Doel.

With its unique polder landscape, Doel could be an ideal home for a university campus focused on biological agriculture and aquaculture

- Professor Joris Van Reusel

“We are safeguarding both the position of the port of Antwerp and of Doel,” said Weyts. “The extra container capacity will ready Antwerp for the growth that is coming in freight transport. But we are also readying Doel for a new chapter.”

There are about 20 original residents still living in Doel. Weyts said that an external research and development bureau is now sketching out options for rebuilding the village.

KU Leuven’s architecture department has also amassed a team of experts into an organisation called Plan Doelland. Two years ago, it launched a number of activities in the district, including an exhibition of ideas for how to breathe new life into the district.

“With its unique polder landscape, Doel could be an ideal home for a small university campus focusing on innovative biological agriculture and aquaculture,” professor Joris Van Reusel told Flanders Today at the time. “The arrival of scientists and students could also stimulate the local economy with new labs, student accommodation and catering businesses.”

Photo: Graffiti artists might have to find another hot-spot now that Doel is back on the map
©Nicolas Maeterlinck