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Family successfully appeals against expropriation - 50 years later

14:59 04/05/2024

After more than five decades, the family of the now-deceased Guido Poets is being compensated for an unlawful seizure of his property for use by the public domain.

A piece of land owned by Poets’ elderly parents was bought by the Flemish city of Lommel in 1976, with the intent of building a cultural centre that never materialised. Instead, the city sold the land to a private investor who then built an apartment complex on it.

“They were elderly people and they didn't really want to lose that land, but then, under pressure from the city, they signed the contract anyway,” Henriette Slegers, Poets’ widow, told VRT.

“When Guido saw that flats would be built on the land, he was furious. We went to get redress at the town hall, but we got no answers there. The city of Lommel told us we couldn't do anything, that it was time-barred. We did some digging ourselves to find out how it was done and looked for a lawyer.”

After a 20-year-long legal proceeding, the courts found that the expropriation of the land was not done properly and the city must pay his family €3 million in damages as a result.

“He would have been overjoyed, although he was never about money,” his surviving family said in a statement.

For its part, the city council said it respected the ruling and will pay out the compensation. When spread out among the city’s taxpayers, that will cost residents €100 each – a sum which current mayor Bob Nijs (CD&V) said could have been avoided.

“It was a rash decision by the former city council to sell the land privately while it was expropriated for public benefit,” Nijs said.

“The then-opposition warned against this several times, so the administration was well aware of the risks of that policy choice. As a result, Lommel residents are now facing the consequences that will undoubtedly impact our town's current budgets.”

Alderman for legal affairs Karel Wieërs (N-VA) wants to investigate whether the mayor of Lommel at the time was at fault when reselling the land.

“We learn from the Poets family that they warned the city at the time that the land could only be used for public benefit,” said Wieërs.

“At that time, notarised deeds were passed by the mayor. Did he take the necessary precautions then? Was the college of aldermen informed? These are all things I want to check in the city archives. Because if that were the case, then his personal liability is at stake and we will hold the then-mayor accountable.”

Written by Helen Lyons