The mayor of the coastal town of Blankenberge, Daphné Dumery (N-VA), has closed the town to day trippers today (Sunday) following a pitched battle yesterday between police and people who refused to obey the rules.
The measure involves a stop to trains arriving at the resort between 09.00 and 16.00, and the maximum control possible on arrivals by other modes of transport.
The problem appears to have arisen after a number of people seated on the breakwater were told to move as that is not allowed. They refused, and when police arrived, a fight ensued.
Parasols and wind-breaker poles were used as weapons and projectiles. Arrests were made, and a number of those involved – mainly those who had a criminal record already were banned from the town. Some form of legal action, such as a communal fine or legal proceedings, could follow later.
“Our town needs a time-out,” Dumery said yesterday.
Only residents, owners of second homes and tourists staying for several days are welcome this Sunday in Blankenberge. Police will set up checkpoints along the access roads.
“Those who want to come to Blankenberge tomorrow will have to have a good reason for doing so and also have the right to enter the municipality. This rule will help us do our best to restore order.”
The decision will leave those planning a day at the beach in the midst of a heatwave with few options – at least if they were planning to take the train.
The rail authority SNCB has three main routes from the interior to the coast: trains to Knokke, Zeebrugge and Blankenberge that split in Bruges, the main link to Ostend, which comes from Eupen by way of Liege, Leuven, Brussels and Ghent, and a less-frequented line from Ghent to De Panne.
The closure of Blankenberge would normally leave Knokke as an option. However mayor Leopold Lippens last week told day trippers to stay home as the beach is essentially full. Few seem to have paid any attention, so police have been ordered to refuse entry to anyone who cannot show a valid reason to be there – someone with a longer-term booking, for example, or the owner of a property in the municipality.
At the same time, Ostend mayor Bart Tommelein (Open VLD) has asked the SNCB to remove from the schedule any additional trains they were planning on bringing to Ostend. The city experienced a major problem last weekend when a fault on the line inland in the late afternoon delayed trains arriving at and leaving Ostend, leading to huge and unsafe crowds at the railway station.
With the problems further up the coast, Tommelein must fear the overspill will make its way to Ostend. The city is not closed, but it will remain open as little as possible.
The SNCB, in the meantime, said trains to Knokke and Blankenberge will remain on the schedule as usual. That situation will only change if the federal government decides. Passengers who have already departed, however, risk being turned back.