Plans for new island off the Belgian coast postponed after hot debate

Plans for a new artificial island off the Knokke coast have been scrapped, at least in their present form. The plans had sparked sparked anger with Knokke-Heist Mayor Leopold Lippens, but were defended by 'De Blauwe Cluster', an organisation promoting economic activities at sea. In the aftermath of the discussion, the federal State Secretary for the North Sea Philippe De Backer announced that the plans have been postponed for the time being, because the conditions that he had set, have not been met. 

With one eye on October's local elections, Lippens launched a large-scale offensive against the plans. The island would cover 40 hectares and serve as a test case. Situated about 1 kilometre off the beach, it should protect the Belgian coast against storms amidst alarming climate change reports. The Flemish government would like to start the construction in 2020. 

"We need to face facts: climate change is here"

Lippens has never been a supporter of the plans and is taking it one step further now, with a large-scale campaign. He argues the island would create a canal just off the coast, which would become a kind of sewer due to pollution. "Tourism would be affected", he said on Radio 1 in a direct debate with De Blauwe Cluster. 

Caroline Ven, CEO of the umbrella organisation De Blauwe Cluster, disagrees: "We need to face facts. Climate change is here and we have to take extra measures. I don't whether the island is the ultimate solution. But that's why it's a pilot project. We should at least investigate the possibility."

Lippens concerned about local tourism: "I was in Dubai and what I saw there...."

Lippens argues that there are other options to combat climate change fears, referring to the Netherlands where they use the technique of sand replenishment or beach renourishment.

"This is what we want", says Lippens. "You know, there are no relevant examples of the Belgian project. But I was in Dubai to see how they handled it there. I passed a sewer full of plastic and oil. I wouldn't want to spend my holiday there. People in Knokke live from tourism, we want to avoid that this project sinks tourism ambitions."

We could grow seaweed, mussels or oysters on the island 

Caroline Ven puts things into perspective. "Actually, the island we are talking about is also a kind of sand replenishment project, but just a little more off the coastline. We could grow seaweed, mussels or oysters there, which could interesting from a financial point of view." Ven dismisses allegations the island will cost an arm and a leg: "Don't forget that beach renourishment is also costs money to the tax payer."

It is not clear what will happen now to protect our coast better against exceptional storms. It is expected that the Flemish Tourism Minister Ben Weyts will announce a new move.