A unique village by the river Scheldt

There is no place where nature and culture are so intertwined than Doel. The first notion of this place dates from 1267, when Doel was still called ‘De Doolen’ (etym. ‘border water’). It was an island until the 18th century amid flooded land. During hundreds of years Doel, situated on the border, was a political and religious curiosity. In some period of history it used to be unclear who Doel really belonged to: the independent State of The Netherlands or the region controlled by the Spanish.

The chessboard pattern of Doel is unique for our country. It dates from the 80-Years’ War (1568-1648) and consists of 3 streets parallel to the riverfront, 4 streets perpendicular to those, and all of that criss-crossed with alleys and corridors. This pattern has not grown through the ages, but it was designed and built in a few years’ time. Ever since 1614, when this geometric lay-out was mapped, nothing has been changed to it. This fact makes the village a rare example of urbanization in more than one respect.

Even so Doel has more to offer than its street pattern. Close to the village centre, on the outside of its dike, there is a tidal harbour containing an original 19th century drainage sluice. Nowadays the harbour serves as a yacht-basin.

The village boasts many historical buildings such as the oldest (!) stone windmill of the country (1600) and the Baroque "Hooghuys" (1613) that belonged to Pieter Paul Rubens’ family.

Some interesting old architecture of middle class and farming class can be found in the village and also many houses dating from the 18th and 19th century. One of those is the 18th century town hall in Camerman Street and the Baroque parsonage dating from the same period in Hooghuis Street.

Visitors exploring outside the village may discover wonderful, often 17th or 18th century farms and barns. Still many of these valuable buildings are endangered in short term.

Doel doesn’t have high-rise blocks and the present day church building has been dominating the village skyline since 1852. It was built in Neo-classical style and was reopened in 1998 after 14 years of restoration works, costing more than 1 million euro. On the adjacent graveyard there are some very remarkable tombs and a calvary erected from old gravestones

The Scheldt Consecration Festivities, early August, are an annual highlight in Doel. During that weekend many visitors come to show their solidarity with the village and also to enjoy the cosy atmosphere, the terraces, the boat show and many other activities that are organized every year.

Future ?

From historical and architectural point of view, the village contains an extremely interesting patrimony. The natural beauty and ecology has more to offer than any average village in Flanders. Such a unique site, next to the Port of Antwerp, provides great opportunities. This is also recognized by some entrepreneurs of the Port.

Yet the Antwerp Port Authorities, supported by the Flemish Government, keep refusing to abandon the annihilation scenario of Doel.

20 August 2008, Press release Doel 2020

Flemish devolved government sends riot police to destroy the historic village of Doel

The Flemish Executive started last week with the demolition of the village of Doel on a massive scale. The historic village is situated in the vicinity of the Port of Antwerp. However there are still 200 inhabitants in the village who resist the demolition of their homes. That is the reason why the Flemish Executive resorted to sending a 100 strong squad of riot police to the village in order to force through the start of the demolition works.

The sheer brutality and heavy handed approach of the Flemish Executive has left the remaining villagers humiliated and the wider region in a state of shock. The streets are strewn with rubble, big ugly gaps appeared in between the houses. The village now looks like a war torn zone. But still, the villagers show resilience and announced to go on with their resistance in a bid to save their village.

This aggressive demolition policy also resulted in indignant reactions in several political parties. The media are now a daily presence in Doel and send images of destroyed houses and streets around the globe.

The Executive claims that Doel has to disappear for the construction of a new dock, named Saeftinghedok, however it is very unlikely that such a dock would ever be build there. Doel is namely also the location of a large nuclear power plant, and according to the Seveso-directive it would be irregular - not to say irresponsible - to develop an industrial zone or dense industrial activity so close to the power plant. On top of that there is a notable lack of road infrastructure that could carry such an influx of heavy truck & container traffic. Traffic is now already up to its maximal capacity in the region.

Most crucial, however, is the fact that there is no official decision made over the future of the village. On the contrary, officially it is still designated as a residential neighbourhood. Minister-President Kris Peeters of the Flemish Executive himself acknowledged that a possible decision to construct the famous Saeftinghedok could still be for years on the shelve. At the moment an actual law is effectively guaranteeing the status of residential neighbourhood till at least August 2009. The wanton destruction of Doel is a pure political decision of the Flemish Executive without any legal substance.

The residents association "Doel 2020" demands the immediate end of the siege and demolition works and a return to normality and legality.


22 August 2008, Press Conference Doel 2020

The destruction of the village of Doel


End of June '08: 7 good contemporary build houses were demolished in the street named 'Scheldemolenstraat'.

A few days previous to the start of a new planned demolition wave, received the group 'Werkgroep Doelse Leefgemeenschap' word that on 11.08 another 12 buildings will be demolished, this time in a street named 'Havenweg'.

11.08.'08.: 'A reclaim our street - party' is organized and the planned demolition works can't start. Daan Schalck, top executive of 'Maatschappij Linkeroever' announces that works will now take on a haphazardly fashion, and without any further announcements.

However, during the following days, activists manage to block the way consistently of the demolition teams. Activist are repeatedly threatened by workers of the contractor.

Thursday 14.08: The contractor announces that his listing of the asbestos has disappeared. The contractor accuses a female resident of the village who is subsequently arrested. The police also searches two premises in the village but to no avail.

According to the mayor is the disappearance of the asbestos listings a 'big problem' and is the 'health & safety of the public seriously compromised'.

Sunday evening 17.08: The contractor receives - much to his own surprise - the order by the 'Maatschappij Linkeroever' to demolish the entire street 'Havenweg'. The Mayor had by that time also mobilized several units of the federal riot police of Brussels. Doel suddenly looked like a war torn zone.

Strangely enough were the asbestos suddenly no problem any more nor a was the health and safety of workers and public a concern any longer. Glass, wood, masonry, asbestos, plastics, metals, everything could be driven on one big heap with a JCB.

The Mayor of Beveren maintains that this was in the best interest of public safety.

We think that whoever is really concerned about public safety does not go about demolition works in this particular way, as witnessed last Monday. Concerns about safety does allow no warning demolition strikes with heavy JCB's and cranes adjacent a home inhabited by a family with young children.

The official policy of the government is since years dominated by a negative agenda with as sole purpose to make life in the village of Doel impossible and unbearable.

Part and parcel of this policy is the systematic partial destruction of houses. The contractor was ordered to do that by the 'Maatschappij Linkeroever'

Another fact that points in that direction is the absolute refusal of the local police to act against hoods or vandals. Even in cases where witnesses passed on the names of the individuals to the police. A stark contrast with the massive and heavy handed approach of the riot police last week against the passive resistance and non violent protest of the villagers and activists last week.

What sort of a country is Belgium actually? Which other country brands its own citizens as enemies of the state and declares a brutal siege on its own villagers?

The Arguments

The facts show clearly that technical information of the houses is being misused and even manipulated in a concerted effort to justify demolition of the village.

The fact that in some cases the individual demolition order may be legally correct in its own right, it still does not allow the demolition of a street in a residential area.

The way how the Flemish Executive handles this dossier is nothing less than a scandal. This kind of manu military approach is unacceptable in a modern democracy. Why does the Flemish Executive use the violent methods against its own citizens?

The Flemish Executive uses 'Decision Policy' without any legal binding.

It is a legal obligation of any government to weigh up any pro's and cons very carefully, certainly in cases of developments. However the Flemish Executive refuses to do this in a systematic way.

A Future for Doel?

The destruction that happened this week has scarred the village in a very brutal way. What happened here bears testimony of a government that lacks all respect for heritage, history and people. A government that has no clue as to what can or could happen in Doel and indeed in this region. But, however, this government is hell bent on destroying the village, to cleanse it of all population and to lay the whole region waste.

The brutality we witnessed this week is unprecedented in Flanders. The question arises if this brutality and oppression will now become standard for the new Flanders that this Executive is so keen to develop and show to the world. It is most definitely not the sort of Flanders we wish to see in the future.

According to Minister-President Kris Peeters of the Flemish Executive, is it clear that during this term of the executive there will be no decision about the future of Doel. If the Minister-President speaks the truth why pushing this radical and destructive policies?

The same Minister-President Kris Peeters was only a month
ago talking about the developments on the left bank of the river Schelde as the search for a socially best achievable alternative. If words still have a meaning to Kris Peeters then the future of Doel should be at the centre of a broad social debate.

Whoever wants to demolish a whole village, destroy a region, should have really good argumentation. The inhabitants of that village and region seem however not to have the right to hear that 'really strong argumentation' according to our own minister-president.

The demolition of Doel contravenes every legal principle. Moreover there is even not one legal basis to justify these demolition works in the manner it happened this week.


Doel 2020 will not stop its protest. The many positive reactions of ordinary Flemish people of all regions gave us the necessary strength to carry on. Both, politically and via the courts we will finish tomorrow and the days, months, years ahead if necessary what we started a long time ago. But now we don't stand alone anymore.

The protest around Doel is by now not solely about the preservation of the village anymore. It became now the struggle for a Flanders fit to live in, where respect for the people, nature and heritage mean something.

24 August 2008, Press release Doel 2020

The Village Doel resists official's disinformation campaign

Residents Coalition 'Doel2020' is planning new actions

During the past week, an enormous amount of disinformation has been released into the world. A lot of it about the villagers of Doel and of course as well about the activists and their sympathizers. Well, let us put the record straight, there are still 400 people living in Doel. Thereof 200 remain in the actual village itself, other people live in farms and homes spread out over the region. In the disinformation campaign that was waged against us last week, there was a great deal made of the fact that some residents of Doel are 'blow in's'; and that should justify the brutal violence and siege of Monday the 18th?

Part of the remaining residents of Doel have indeed been living there 'only' since a few years. That does not take away of the strength of the argument of the residents coalition, nor does it undermine the fact that there is still a sizeable group of 'authentic' villagers remaining in Doel who live in their own homes - and wish to remain in their own homes - but, however, are forced to look on while the devolved Flemish government brutally reshapes their environment - legally still a designated residential area - into a lunar landscape.

The village and region receive every year many day tourists, walking enthusiasts, cycle fanatics, during the summer months the number of these visitors would be well over a 100.000. The annual 'Scheldewijdingsfeesten', a village festival, last month received 10.000 visitors.

The Flemish Executive is using a heavy handed approach as enforcement tactics to override the rightful will of the villagers. This is scandalous. This approach is not acceptable in any democracy and constitutional state. If the vision of the Flemish executive is crystal-clear, why do they need to  resort to these brutal  measures?

One of the main problems in this dossier is the fact that the Flemish Executive excels in the creation of 'non binding decisions'. In other words, decisions that cannot be questioned in the court or do not have to stand up to any scrutiny what so ever. Quite some power wielding when a government can use it in the demolisionprocess of family homes.

At this moment in time it is a Flemish Executive policy for the whole region - 50 to 60 square km - to buy homes and farm buildings with the intend to demolish them. This policy is not restricted to Doel but this happens also in other villages like Prosperpolder, Kieldrecht and Verrebroek. The area in which this policy seems to be valid stretches right up to the Dutch border, but seems to exclude the village centre of Kieldrecht.

Another soar point is the non communication from the Flemish Executive. Villagers, farmers and activists maintain that there needs to be a really good reason and arguments for demolishing an inhabited 800 year old historical village. From official side nobody has ever shown any plans to the residents about the possible future of what is now their village, their homes. It seems that the Flemish Executive is in the opinion that residents have no right to know what the plan is for their residential area, their village, their home. Or is there no plan at all beyond the demolition works?

More actions are planned in the days ahead.

Concerning future political action: all members of the Flemish Parliament (Assembly) will be addressed and asked to take up their responsibility, stop the futile violent approach from the Executive. They will also be asked to show more scrutiny in this dossier and close all the legal loopholes that the Executive is creating. Laws should apply to everybody and every institution in equal measures.
Also every member of the Flemish Parliament will receive a file on the legal anomalies concerning the recent spate of demolitions.

The residents have also started a series of new legal procedures against the demolitions. Facts show, clear as day, that the current works are in contravention with the planning laws and regulations. While the individual demolision orders might be regular and lawful it does not mean that one is allowed to demolish a whole street and destroy the infrastructure. Therefor one needs a change in the designation of the zone. Changing the designation of the zone is still subject to a public enquiery.

The villagers of Doel are also very suspicious and asking serious questions as to the objectivity of the currently running procedures. It has been noted that the regional civil servant responsible for demolition orders/permissions in the planningbureau literally copies the argumentation of 'Maatschappij Linkeroever' (Corporation of the Left Bank). Spelling mistakes included...

This is one of the reasons why the Residents Association Doel 2020 will also lodge an official complaint to the Flemish Ombudsman.

24 March 2009, speech by Johan De Vriendt to the international congress 'Heritage care and active citizenship' in Mechelen

Is it a good cause to swallow up a paradise as Doel for the sake of economic profit ?

Doel is a small, 700-year old village in the Flemish polder on the left bank of the river Scheldt, north of the city/port of Antwerp. By the early sixties, the ever expanding port of Antwerp started to build an extensive network of docks, interconnecting channels, and locks at the left bank, to the south of Doel. From the early 1970s on, the Port Authority ignored farmers' and villagers' protests and started to expropriate houses in several polder villages. Hereby they were sacrificing local rural communities and heritage (farms, villages and landscape) to industrial and economic interests.

Successful actions by protest groups and local politicians in the late seventies, however, managed to temporarily put a halt to the Port Authority's voracious expansion plans and the village of Doel experienced well over a decade of renewed hope and revival. Thanks to the ferry service, the cosy polder village even became a flourishing tourist attraction.

Yet, its survival dreams were relatively short-lived. As of the mid-nineties, plans for a new containerdock again tightened the industrial noose around the community's neck. This prospect led many disillusioned villagers to "voluntarily" sell their houses to the government. Although the government promised to keep the village intact until there would be a decision about building a second dock, the government refused to temporarily rent vacant houses to candidate dwellers, preferring instead to let the properties go to ruin. This premeditated process of neglect undermined the village's chances of survival and caused the number of inhabitants to drop from 900 to 380 people.

By the end of 2005, however, the plans for the second container terminal that would definitively wipe Doel off the map were shelved for an indefinite period. This sparked renewed hopes that the expansion of the port may stop at the village's southern border. But the Flemish Government decided that Doel will be demolished anyway as of 2009, even if the Saeftinghe terminal never materializes …

This month the inhabitants received an official letter notifying them their houses should be evacuated by 1 September 2009

Demolition politics in Doel

To make it clear. Today a further expansion of the harbour is economical not viable. The village of Doel is legally and in fact still a village with, according to the last census 380 official inhabitants. The village and the surrounding environment are still designated as a residential and agrarian area with historical value.

But the government did everything they could to leave the properties they acquired susceptible to decay and plunder. That gave rise to the argument that the architectural heritage could be demolished. This policy resulted in a plan to demolish more than 70% of the properties that were acquired by the devolved Flemish Executive.

Heritage in Doel

The publication, 'Inventory of architectural heritage of East Flanders' counts no less as 65 buildings in the village of Doel. A part thereof is in the meantime demolished. The structure of the village is still according the original draughtboard layout of the 17th century. This draughtboard layout is unique in Flanders. The Dutch dike builders who revived Doel after the war against the Spanish occupation imported it.

't Hooghuis, the high house, dates from the 17th century and is a protected monument, as is the windmill on the dike of the river Schelde.

The windmill is the oldest brick built mill in the country. The windmill originates from the year 1611. Restoration works to the church were carried out only a few years ago. The church organ is also a protected monument.

Typical are also the harbour of Doel & Prosperpolder, the dikes, the hamlets Ouden Doel and Prosperpolder, many monumental farmsteads, the presence of the world-famous Antwerp painter Peter Paul Rubens and his father in law, Jan Brant.

Together with the river Schelde and the saltings is the polder in Doel a major European bird habitat. The interwoven connection of cultural, agricultural, natural and historical heritage is the trump card for Doel.

Doel has a moving war history: the Spanish occupation, the Austrian occupation, the Napoleonic era, the Belgian rising in 1830, WW1 & WW2 were all troubled times for Doel, but the village survived every flood or war disaster.

Heritage a Human Right! Also in Doel

Heritage is more as some relic of the past. Heritage is a living entity of beacons in a lasting environment, building bricks for a qualitative rich life. Heritage and environment are interwoven. They exist always in proportion to humanity. Humanity is responsible for its level of importance, but therefore heritage is a factor in identifying our identity and our welfare. Heritage and environment are however changeable data. Economical, social, demographic, cultural and ecological factors are all influencing. Therefore change must be guided in cooperation by all the relevant actors, which include also individual stakeholders as for instance barkeepers and beekeepers.

The Convention of Faro (Council of Europe 2005) we saw the introduction of the notion "heritage community", that is each group of people with a partial stake in (the preservation) of a particular piece of heritage. According to the Council of Europe heritage is a human right. In the Netherlands there are already 200 agrarian nature organisations (or rural communities) active where farmers, rural dwellers, environment preservation organisations, businesses and hunters are spontaneously cooperating with each other. Since the introduction of the Belvedere Note in 1999 an integrated policy of nature conservation, cultural-historical heritage conservation & spatial planning/ordering in the Netherlands is a fact

Doel is above all a village, a living community of people. New and old inhabitants, tens of thousands visitors and friends of Doel are making up a strong heritage community which shouldn’t be taken too lightly according to the Convention of Faro. It is an international community open to everyone, it reflects, agitates and aspires to a partnership with the government to safeguard the future of the Schelde's left bank for future generations. The heritage community of Doel aspires for a policy where a good quality of life is top priority.

Therefore the demolition policy needs to be stopped forthwith and one should focus on a biography study of the region. Out of this work could a plan develop that is acceptable to all involved and where all stakeholders can identify with. It is the heritage community Doel that started this process with our document "The hub Doel-Lillo".

This important document is a sort of master plan. It includes the manifesto of KunstDoel. KunstDoel or ArtDoel is an international organisation that stands for an artistic alternative for the village, in respect for its identity as an historical village. At this very moment ArtDoel is busy turning the village into the first open air museum village of the world. World-famous artists as Luc Tuymans and Michelangelo Pistoletto are taking part, beneath hundreds of other painters, photographers and other artists. The World première will take place the 24
th of May.

The master plan ‘The Hub Doel-Lillo’ also contains the Plan for a future for Doel: a village in the Port of Antwerp’. This plan is the result of the cooperation between the Heritage Community of Doel and Doel 2020, the Juridical and Action group of the citizens of Doel.

The joined action groups, Doel 2020, ArtDoel and the Heritage Community of Doel, stand for an alternative that integrates soft values and hard values. The two corresponding villages on both sides of the river Scheldt can become the link, the hub, between the hard values of the city and port of Antwerp and the soft values of the open space of the polder with her small historical villages and the natural, agricultural and cultural heritage.

The name of the village is a statement in itself: Doel does mean in English ‘Purpose’, ‘Goal’ or ‘Cause’. Our government can make it a ‘Good cause’, a paradise for heritage, art, habitants and people who are looking for peace and air in one of the busiest areas at this earth. Instead of swallowing it up, our government can make it a meeting point of industry, culture, heritage and nature, a source of inspiration, a true home for a drifted society, a centre of anew rooting active citizens of all kinds: industrials and heritage workers, environmental activists and farmers, artists and other strange birds, in cooperation.

Instead of swallowing it up, we want to keep this village a paradise for swallows, the living link between nature, culture, art and infrastructure. The swallow has become the symbol of our struggle. Doel still owns one of the biggest colonies of swallows, of martins. A swallow flies each winter more than 10000 kilometres but always returns to its old nest, their and our home! We all are connected by heritage. Heritage is a connecting force. That’s true active citizenship, that’s the social goal of heritage care!

Johan De Vriendt
Heritage Community Doel (Erfgoedgemeenschap Doel)

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