People in Flanders will soon be able to enjoy open-air swimming in four additional locations in the region, the Flemish government announced on Thursday.
Until last year, swimming in open water was permitted at 70 beaches and 47 inland pools of water in the region, however, four additional locations will be added in 2021, according to Flemish Minister of Environment Zuhal Demir and Flemish Minister of Sports Ben Weyts.
"The warm, now even hot summers are increasing the demand for swimming in open water. Our cabinets have started an exercise to see where swimming might already be possible this summer in the form of a few 'trial locations," Demir said in a press release.
Flanders' struggle to offer open-air swimming opportunities and the health benefits that come with this type of activity were issues raised during an Environment, Nature, Spatial Planning and Energy Committee meeting last week.
"Swimming in the open air can increase people's happiness and it has a very positive effect on mind and body, however, very few places in Flanders are well equipped and regulated in this respect, and few places where it is indicated that people can and may swim in the open air," said Member of the Flemish Parliament Jo Brouns.
In the region, there are strict rules on where people can go swimming in the open air, and in many places, swimming is explicitly forbidden, because of various risks such as the quality of the bathing water - which cannot be guaranteed at all times, the fact that the bathing spot may not be easily accessible or because lifeguards cannot be provided.
"It is crazy that we invest millions in swimming pools while we neglect free swimming opportunities in nature. I think we should be less reticent in this regard. More swimming in nature should really be possible," said Weyts.
The ministers added that a possible change in the regulations could be possible for the future. A comparative study was launched by order of Sport Flanders and the Public Health Monitoring Department of the Agency for Care and Health, looking at policies of neighbouring countries.
"Based on these insights, we can improve the Flemish regulations. Those results are expected by the end of June," Demir explained.
The locations of the new bathing spots have not yet been disclosed.