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City association issues list of proposals to restart Bois de la Cambre debate

Illustration shows the closed entrance of Le Bois de la Cambre - Ter Mamerenbos, in Brussels. (BELGA PHOTO THIERRY ROGE)
06:30 21/04/2022

The study and action group Arau has issued a list of 25 proposals for the Bois de la Cambre, the largest park in Brussels, reports Bruzz. The city association states that it wants to trigger new discussions on how the park can be "returned" to the citizens of Brussels.

The proposals range from a complete closure of the forest to car traffic, to more drinking fountains, public toilets and signage. Arau proposes more bicycle connections to the park and even a tram line along the entire Chaussée de Waterloo to reduce car traffic around the park.

The association also suggests the creation of a new event square on the current roundabout on Avenue Louise which would relieve the park of large, often private festivals. "The noise and light pollution from the events around the kiosk threaten the biodiversity in the park, such as the bats," says Marion Alecian, director of Arau.

Turning Bois de la Cambre into a park again

With its 25 proposals, the city association wants to reopen the previous discussions around the Bois de la Cambre. "The political attention for the forest is still too often about more or fewer cars,” says Alecian. “We ask ourselves: how do we turn it into a park again, where you can relax, exercise, rest and respect nature? We now want to further develop these ideas together with the public."

The Bois de la Cambre was completely closed to car traffic during the lockdown in the spring of 2020. The City of Brussels would have liked to have continued with the closure, but the neighbouring municipality of Uccle feared that this measure would force extra traffic through its residential areas.

A test phase followed in the autumn, in which the southern loop of the park was closed to cars, but that test was abandoned after a legal challenge. Today cars are welcome again in the southern Avenue de Boitsfort and in the Avenue de Diane.

The municipality of Uccle is still not satisfied and challenged the city again at the beginning of this year. "We're asking for an evaluation of the current situation," says mayor Boris Dilliès, who would prefer to allow more traffic through the park to ease the commune’s own congestion.

Nevertheless, Arau once again asks for a completely car-free forest. "We are an independent organisation and want to represent the people of Brussels first and foremost," Marion Alecian emphasises.

Arau bases its proposals largely on two citizen workshops which took place in 2020. In the first one, nature and cycling associations participated, along with several urban planners. "There was also a representative of the Uccle district committees," says Alecian, but mobility organisation Touring and the action group 'L'automobiliste en a marre' were not invited. "They were very hostile at the time," Alecian says. Minister of mobility Elke Van den Brandt received death threats from the motorists’ action group on social media at the time.

The fact that not everyone was at the table already makes the municipality of Uccle doubt the democratic basis of the study. "I'm very careful when I hear that they have questioned the neighbourhood committees, because many residents do not have time to go to such a meeting," says mayor Dilliès. He has not yet received Arau's studies. "Closing the entire park is nonsense in regard to the environment anyway. That's how you push air pollution into the residential areas," says Dilliès, who speaks of "extremism".

In its own words, Arau mainly wants to get the discussion going again and accepts that it's asking for more than it's likely to get. "The underlying issue for us is that the region should take over the management of the park from the City of Brussels,” Alecian says. “That makes more sense, because all Brussels residents have the same right to green space."

City looking for 16 citizens to join discussion panel

Meanwhile, the City of Brussels is calling for citizens to join a panel to discuss the traffic situation in the Bois de la Cambre and supervise a mobility study in the park for a year.

In February this year, a consultancy firm commissioned by the City of Brussels started a mobility study in and around the Bois de la Cambre. The intention was to map the traffic flows through and around the forest and to investigate what the impact would be of a partial or full closure of the forest for car traffic.

Uccle mayor Boris Dilliès has voiced his doubts on the objectivity of the firm commissioned to carry out the study and with his municipality and the City of Brussels still at odds over the traffic situation around the park, the City has now taken the step to set up a citizens’ panel to supervise the study.

In total, the City of Brussels is looking for 16 people, not all Brussels residents. Six of the sixteen places are reserved for Uccle residents. Three spaces are reserved for citizens from both the City of Brussels and Ixelles. Two inhabitants of Watermael-Boitsfort are being sought, and one each from Rhode Saint-Genèse and one from Linkebeek.

"The panel has to be a good mix,” a statement from the City of Brussels reads. “In the composition, attention is paid to a balance in terms of the functions in the district, gender, age and language role. The goal is to strengthen the study by expanding its parameters."

In addition, the city takes into account the transport modes of the candidates for the citizens' panel. Six participants must be motorists, the others must be primarily pedestrians, cyclists or users of public transport.

The citizens' panel will support the technical experts carrying out the mobility study for a year. In addition, it's also the intention that the panel will be used to inform the population of any developments and results. Those who want to apply for the citizens' panel can do so until 15 May.

Written by Nick Amies