The Belgian coastal town of Nieuwpoort has decided to go to the Council of State to contest plans by the Colruyt supermarket group to establish a food production installation off the coast, mayor Geert Vanden Broucke (CD&V) said.
Colruyt plans to install its ‘sea-farm’ 4.5km off the coast at the Nieuwpoort sandbank between Nieuwpoort and Koksijde. The sunken tank, covering an area of 4.6 square kilometres or twice the size of Monaco, would be used to grow seaweed for human consumption, as well as to raise oysters and mussels.
A public enquiry was carried out in August and attracted only 12 contributions. Later Bercy Slegers (CD&V) MP for the part of West Flanders known as the Westhoek, told Philippe De Backer (MR), then minister for the North Sea, that the project would have an effect on the environment and on the fisheries industry.
“Locally there is no significant backing for the project,” she said. “The minister should keep that in mind.”
The party’s president in Nieuwpoort, Maarten Claeys, confirmed.
“Fisheries, the marina and nature would all suffer from this project, according to the Strategic Advisory Council for Agriculture and Fisheries,” he said at the time.
“Moreover, I received no confirmation from Colruyt that the sea farm would be an economic added value for Nieuwpoort. If our city doesn’t benefit from it, then that means the end of the story as far as I’m concerned.”
De Backer went the other way, and approved the permit. But the city administration was one of the opinions dissenting on the project, and now they intend to fight the permit.
“The user permit has indeed been approved, after only positive advice was received,” said a spokesperson for Justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne, whose brief also includes the North Sea.
“But an environmental permit and a Natura 2000 permit still have to be approved. Those proceedings are still ongoing.”
The grant of the permits will ultimately have to be approved by Flemish environment minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA), but that procedure has not even started.
“We await the advice received during the environmental impact statement. This includes the consequences for fishing and the environment. Only when the three federal permits have been approved can the project take further shape.”
The issue also came up this week at question time in the Flemish parliament, when Flemish fisheries minister Hilde Crevits (CD&V) answered a question from Stefaan Sintobin (Vlaams Belang) about the sea farm.
“The operating permit approved by the previous federal minister Philippe De Backer on September 30 was published in the Belgian Official Gazette on Monday. But I am still waiting for the ministerial decision stating the size of the area and what exactly will come,” she said.
The procedure requires three permits and the approval of Demir, but it would be sufficient for one permit to be overturned for the project to be sent to the bottom of the ocean. Just this week a long-planned new national stadium finally met its end when an appeal against a refused environmental permit was turned down.