A group of families who own land in the town of Westkapelle at the Belgian coast have introduced an action before the Council of State to contest a decision by the Knokke municipal council which they say benefits the mayor of Knokke to their own cost.
Earlier this month, the Bruges prosecutor’s office said it had opened a file concerning a possible conflict of interest on the part of the mayor of Knokke, Count Leopold Lippens. The issue concerns the re-zoning of the Tolpaertpolder from agricultural land to residential.
According to the Flemish government agency Audit Vlaanderen, Lippens took part in the debates on the issue, despite the fact that a large portion of the parcels of land in the polder are owned by members of his family, including his own children. According to Audit Vlaanderen, the mayor ought to have recused himself from the debate.
Now, families from Westkapelle, which adjoins the proposed development, find that their own parcels of land have been re-zoned from residential to agricultural. This, they argue, substantially reduces the value of their property.
Furthermore, they claim that the change in use is directly linked to the Tolpaertpolder development. The Westkapelle land is being re-zoned to compensate for the move in the opposite direction in the Tolpaertpolder.
And their loss, they argue, represents a direct benefit to the Lippens family among others.
“In order for the zoning of the Tolpaertpolder as agricultural land to be changed, residential land had to be found somewhere else as compensation,” said Erika Rentmeesters, counsel for the Westkapelle families. However Kris Demeyere, Knokke’s councillor for town planning, said there was no link between the two dossiers.
The Council of State is the judicial body which scrutinises decisions at all levels of government, from municipal to federal. The application for review essentially freezes any development of the Tolpaertpolder until a ruling is given.