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Plans for giant Legoland theme park near Charleroi fall through

08:57 28/03/2023

Plans to build a Legoland theme park in Belgium have fallen through as a result of a "change in strategy" on behalf of the Merlin Entertainment Group that operates the popular parks.

The Legoland park would have been built on the former Caterpillar site in Gosselies, near Charleroi.

“The Merlin group has just announced its decision not to commit to the construction of a new Legoland park in Belgium,” Wallonia’s economy minister Willy Borsus told RTBF.

“The group took this decision following a complete evaluation of its global activities. Its diagnosis resulted in a change in strategy to focus on consolidating existing – and under construction – infrastructure rather than expanding its operations.”

Borsus added: “Although it was clear that the terms signed last August were non-binding, this is obviously a disappointment.”

The most disappointed sector is perhaps the hotel one, which was looking forward to catering to not only park-goers in the thousands, but also workers who build the park.

“We are losing about 100 rooms during the period when the workers had to work on the site. Some of them could have stayed here. This is clearly a loss of profit,” said Luc Maton, communications officer for the Van der Valk in Gosselies.

The intended site for the park has sat empty since 2016, with various promises of projects.

“We are angry, because we feel that the authorities should make use of this site. It's a huge space, which can host all kinds of events,” Maton said.

There was also hope that the amusement park itself would bring hundreds of jobs to the area. For the region’s economic players, spin-off benefits seemed promising.

“It's disappointing for employment and the town's liveliness,” one local woman said, but another resident said they “didn’t believe it from the start”.

According to estimates, Legoland would have allowed the creation of 1,000 jobs, 800 of which would have been direct jobs in the area. But now, the site will continue to sit empty.

In the next few days, negotiations will resume to prepare the reconversion of an industrial site, which until recently has made the reputation of the region.

“We must now move forward,” minister Borsus said. “We are mobilising to identify other possibilities for the conversion of this site.”

Thomas Dermine, the secretary of state for recovery and strategic investments, who is from Charleroi, said he was “stunned” by the announcement that Merlin Entertainment was scrapping its plans for a Legoland in Belgium, but echoed the minister’s call for optimism.

“There are other possible ways of converting the site and these must be explored,” he said on Twitter.

“Today, the economic engine in the north of Charleroi is running at full speed: the two new business parks in Jumet/Gosselies have a 100% occupancy rate and the Biopark in Gosselies, next to the Caterpillar site, is in full swing with a new campus project and plans for new production facilities. Conversion options are therefore possible.”

Legoland was supposed to open its doors by 2027 in Gosselies. A non-binding memorandum of understanding was signed in August 2022 by the Merlin Entertainments group, the Walloon region and the federal state to further the collaboration between these different parties in this respect.

“When you are in politics, you have to build a better future for your citizens and dare to support ambitious projects to open up future opportunities,” said Dermine.

“Sometimes projects are successful and we are lucky in Charleroi to have successes. Sometimes, other projects fail, but we must never give up and always continue to act with determination, despite the cynicism of some.”

Written by Helen Lyons