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Ghent's mayor calls for talks with Brussels over outdoor swimming issues

GENT, BELGIUM: Illustration shows people running into the water at the Blaarmeersen in Gent, (BELGA PHOTO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK)
06:29 21/06/2021

Ghent's mayor Mathias De Clercq has sent a letter to the Brussels regional government and Brussels-City mayor Philippe Close requesting talks on the lack of water recreation facilities in Brussels and the impact that has on the De Blaarmeersen swimming lake.

Last Wednesday, police in Ghent had to send a dozen young people back to Brussels when they turned up at Gent-Sint-Pieters railway station with the intention of visiting the outside leisure centre at De Blaarmeersen without a reservation. According to an eyewitness, the police specifically targeted black youths from the group during the check.

Ghent had earlier announced that it would patrol the train station for youth arriving in the city with plans to head to the Blaarmeersen following a violent brawl that occurrred at the recreation domain a week earlier.

The mayor of Ghent has sent two letters to the Brussels authorities in the last few days calling for consultation with the capital region’s authorities. According to a spokesperson, "one letter questioned what happened in De Blaarmeersen, and enquired over plans for recreational opportunities in Brussels while the second demanded concrete consultations".

"We ask that Brussels take its responsibility,” the spokesperson continued. “I understand there is a shortage of public bathing opportunities. In addition, we also ask that the Brussels government work specifically on the problems of these young people."

"At one point, 80% of the visitors to De Blaarmeersen were French-speaking young people, mainly from Brussels. That is why a quota has now been imposed, with 20% of the places reserved for people from outside East Flanders. This is of course a recreational area that is primarily intended for the people of Ghent and other East Flemish people, who also pay taxes for it. We want a family atmosphere so that families who do not have a garden feel at home here. But those who reserve a place as a non-East Flemish person and behave are of course also welcome."

De Clercq's request for consultation is addressed to Brussels minister-president Rudi Vervoort, minister of public works Elke Van den Brandt and state secretary for urban planning Pascal Smet, as well as to the mayor of the City of Brussels, Philippe Close. Federal interior minister Annelies Verlinden and Flemish minister for Brussels and youth Benjamin Dalle were "copied in," as a spokesperson for Dalle described it.

"We will continue to push for a consultation, because this is a phenomenon that transcends Ghent," said the spokesperson for De Clercq. "There have already been problems in other recreational areas. This must be taken seriously in Brussels."

The spokespeople of the Brussels government members indicated that they would "consult internally" on the matter. It is not yet clear whether such a meeting will take place. "We will reply to the letter,” the spokesperson for Vervoort said. “We prefer to do it like this and not through the press."

This summer, two public outdoor swimming facilities will open in Brussels: a swimming pool next to the canal with a capacity of 200 people and a swimming pond which can hold a few dozen. Both are situated in Anderlecht. By comparison, De Blaarmeersen can cater for 4,500 people.


Written by Nick Amies