Coastal lockout: Police brought in to limit entry to Belgian beach towns

Coastal lockout: Police brought in to limit entry to Belgian beach towns
Visitors arrive at Ostend to anyhting but a warm welcome. © Belga

The mayor of Blankenberge, Daphné Dumery (N-VA) has brought in local police to stop day trippers entering the town following yesterday’s pitched battle on the beach between police and trouble-makers.

Last night Dumery said the town was closed to day-trippers, and called on the rail authority SNCB to stop delivering visitors by train to the resort.

Her call came after another coastal mayor, Leopold Lippens of Knokke-Heist, followed up a plea to day-trippers to stay away with a similar order to police to allow entry only to those with a valid excuse – residents, owners of second-homes and longer-term tourists.

Further down the coast, at the largest of the destinations for beach tourists at Ostend, mayor Bart Tommelein (Open VLD) called on the SNCB to cancel the planned extra trains laid on for visitors to the coast, in an attempt to curtain the number of people who would turn to Ostend once faced with the lockdown of Knokke and Blankenberge.

But the SNCB said it would maintain its schedule unless the federal government said otherwise, pointing out that it was up to local mayors to decide for themselves whether to close down their stations.

Tommelein responded by doing just that. The city’s station was scheduled to close at 11.00.

By that time trains filled with day trippers had already arrived, only to be faced with the question of whether they would be able to travel home later today.

Later, after consultation with the coastal security cell and the governor of West Flanders, Tommelein overturned his own order. The Ostend station would not close as long as other stations along the coast remained open.

Trains from the interior arrive at the coast at De Panne, Ostend, Blankenberge, Zeebrugge and Knokke.

The SNCB posted a warning on Twitter:

“Access to coastal communities and beaches may be refused by the local authorities. Although trains run to the coast, we recommend that you do not travel to the coast.”

At Blankenberge, police have been deployed at the station to check on arrivals. Only those with a previous engagement, such as a hotel or restaurant reservation or a ticket for SeaLife or one of the other attractions in the town, will be allowed to enter. The others will be turned away without leaving the station.

If you don't have to be in Blankenberge today, stay away,” a spokesperson for the municipality said. The Flemish traffic centre VVC is now displaying signs above the E40 and other roads leading to the coast warning drivers of the situation in the main resort towns, and advising them to choose another destination.

Alan Hope

The Brussels Times

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