Doel, The Village That Does Not Want to Disappear
Doel is a small, 700-year old village in the Belgian polder on the left bank of the river Scheldt. It is located at a ferry boat trip's distance from the city/port of Antwerp. Although Doel is only a very small village, its skyline is well known throughout Belgium and the Netherlands because it hosts a nuclear power plant with two giant cooling towers.
By the early sixties, the ever expanding port of Antwerp had outgrown available docklands on the Scheldt's right bank and the Antwerp Port Authority started to build an extensive network of docks, interconnecting channels, and locks at the left bank, to the south of Doel. In the early 1970s, the Port Authority ignored farmers' and villagers' protests and started to expropriate houses in several polder villages, hereby sacrificing local rural communities to industrial and economic interests.
of the port's northbound expansion plans, which also threatened Doel,
the authorities proclaimed a "house building freeze",
obliging young married couples to leave the village and settle
elsewhere for lack of available housing. As a result, the village
began to decline. 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 northbound expansion
plans and 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 dock and two container terminals again tightened the industrial noose around the community's neck. In 1998/99, the Flemish regional government signed the village's death verdict by approving the construction of two new container terminals. The first, Deurganck dock, has been operational since 2005. It is located just south of Doel. According to initial plans, the second terminal (Saeftinghe) was to be built a few years later. If ever it materializes, it will wipe Doel off the map.
This utterly gloomy prospect led many disillusioned villagers to "voluntarily" sell their houses to a semi-public expropriations company. Although the government promised to keep the village intact until 2007, this company 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 300-400. 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.
Since 2005, young though mostly responsible squatters have come to the village and settled in deserted houses, in defiance of the expropriations company's rental stop. They restored some houses to a habitable status. By now, many of these "newcomers" have positively contributed to the village's viability and social life. Following media reports in 2006 on social tensions, abuses of utilities, and health hazards, the local district authorities decided to regularize the situation of all well-intentioned squatters, to oust troublemakers and to demolish dilapidated houses. Because of these developments, there was again a glimmer of hope…but on 23 March 2007, the Flemish Government decided that Doel will be demolished anyway as of 2009, even if the Saeftinghe terminal never materializes …
In June 2008, inhabitants received an official letter notifying them their houses should be evacuated by 1 September 2009.
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