The majority parties in the Brussels Regional parliament want to partially open up the Royal Domain in Laeken – which is maintained with taxpayers’ money – to the public, to accommodate Brussels inhabitants’ growing need for more accessible green space.
In the motion tabled on Tuesday, the parties who brought opening up the 186 hectares domain, which equates to 250 football fields in size, to the forefront once again, said this time there was more urgency due to the pandemic.
“During these Covid-times, it has become painfully clear that many residents of Brussels are lacking outdoor spaces to relax in. In Laeken, there is a big green lung that could be made accessible to the public,” said MP of the Brussels parliament Hilde Sabbe.
In its resolution, the parties highlighted that the green spaces are unevenly distributed across the city, and that there is a strong correlation between a commune’s socio-economic situation and the accessibility of green spaces.
“Partially opening up Laeken Park would immediately alleviate the need for more accessible nature in the neighbourhood, given its central location,” they argued.
The domain is currently closed to the public, apart from three weeks a year in the springtime, when it is accessible during the annual opening of its greenhouses and part of the gardens.
The proposal for opening it up has been put on the table several times, but without success, as it never got the support of a majority.
“In the past, there was no majority in favour of this proposal, but now all majority parties have an agreement to request a resolution for the opening,” political secretary for one.brussels, Gerard Oosterwijk, told The Brussels Times.
“We don’t know whether it will succeed, but there is more pressure now and there is a real urge to ask the government to bring this up with the Royal Trust, to whom a formal request will be made,” he added. Now, it remains to be seen how the Royal Trust will respond, after the matter has been discussed internally.
The parties highlighted that the privacy of the royal family and the protection of the fauna and flora in the park would be protected in the event of opening it up to the public.
€1 million in taxpayers’ money
In January 2020, the Brussels government approved a document that expressed the interest in making the royal park of Laeken partially accessible to the public via “group visits”, which the Brussels government would help implement in a supervised manner, a spokesperson for Brussels Minister-President Rudi Vervoort cabinet told BX1 at the time.
The document, which also highlighted that if it opened, the safety of the royal family must be guaranteed, was approved in response to a question posed in the House Affairs Committee, but didn’t gain the majority’s approval.
One year before, in 2019, it came out that the Royal Trust could open these gardens, for which taxpayers at the time paid €1 million in maintenance costs, but decided to keep its gates closed, according to an internal memo from the authorities relayed by a journalists consortium.
At the time, it was highlighted that Laeken Park is owned 49% by the State and 51% by the Royal Trust and is supposed to be an “independent public institution,” meaning it does not belong to the royal family, which is why the costs are being covered by the taxpayers, Oosterwijk added.
Now, for the first time, a broad majority has tabled this motion as a joint resolution to press for the partial opening, and all parties are expecting that the opposition parties will also back the initiative.
Lauren Walker & Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times