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Traders say Place Flagey conditions are worsening

09:06 28/11/2022

Shop owners, restaurateurs and market traders in the Place Flagey district of Ixelles have complained that litter, crime and graffiti are making it increasingly difficult to do business.

Citing drug use, human excrement on the footpaths and aggressive begging and panhandling, some owners have told Bruzz that conditions have gone from bad to worse and they “hardly dare to receive customers any more”.

Their concerns predate the pandemic, with traders complaining about the prevalence of homelessness, public urination and defecation and excessive public drinking for some time now.

“The degradation continues,” Paul de Béthune, owner of café Belga, told Bruzz. “The car park doors no longer close, you see remnants of heroin or other drugs on the stairs, sometimes alongside excrement.”

But the mess is not limited to the underground car park, which has become a popular sleeping place for the homeless.

Littler persists on the square itself, along with an increased number of homeless people, some of whom merchants say are aggressive.

“Some of them are Roma, who do not drink and actually cause little nuisance,” said Laurent Alexandre, manager of the Flagey building.

“But another part does drink, and sometimes beg in a rather aggressive way. They hang out in the entrance, enter the building, sometimes resulting in theft. That’s not to say one should chase these people away without further ado, but the competent authorities should provide shelter.”

Alexandre said the situation has resulted in poor business for companies with offices in the buildings, who are “sometimes embarrassed or worried when clients come to visit. It even becomes difficult to get people to come here for a concert or screening.”

The BNP Paribas Fortis bank branch has even hired a security guard for the self-service ATM area.

This nuisance, according to Alexandre, is the result of a ban on begging in other parts of Brussels, which he said had resulted not in a decrease in panhandling but rather just a shift of beggars from those now-banned areas to Place Flagey.

“I have already written to the mayor several times,” Alexandre said. “As no response has been forthcoming, I put all the town councillors in copy this week.”

The mayor's office said it has already contacted Alexandre informally.

“We are aware of the problem - which is difficult to solve because the neighbourhood is now crowded,” said Aline Lacroix, chief of cabinet for Ixelles mayor Christos Doulkeridis (Ecolo).

“In any case, we don't want to take anti-homeless measures. Those people need to be helped.”

One measure being debated now is turning off power strips for merchant stalls or making them less accessible, as “Roma sometimes plug in a grill to cook their evening meal, and that is too dangerous”.

But Lacroix said the municipality of Ixelles is already taking action, including the establishment of a night council, which includes municipal and prevention services, Bruxelles Environnement, catering operators, residents and police.

But business owners in the area say they have seen no results.

“At the moment, I don't yet see any effect on the clientele, but if it continues like this, they will start avoiding Flagey,” said Café Belga’s De Béthune.

Alexandre echoed the concern: “There are already tenants who say they will leave if it continues.”

Another entrepreneur, Dominique Janne, who owns a significant amount of real estate in the surrounding area, says he is equally fed up with the situation.

“Not only here, but all of Brussels is deteriorating,” Janne said, adding that citizens need to take more personal responsibility.

“Everyone points at the municipality or the region, but I've never seen the municipality or the region urinate in the flower boxes on the street. People need to understand again that the square is actually an extension of their home. It’s our living room. And you don't pee in your living room, do you?”

Janne also said that current public cleaning services are inadequate, perhaps in part because the responsibility is shared between many separate actors. Bruxelles Propreté is responsible for Place Flagey itself, the Stib is responsible for the tram and bus shelter, for which it has delegated the cleaning to Bruxelles Propreté. Indigo is responsible for the underground car park and the municipality itself is responsible for adjoining Place Sainte-Croix.

The cabinet of Brussels minister Alain Maron (Ecolo) said it would present a new strategy for tackling the various issues later this week.

Written by Helen Lyons