Jean-Marie Dedecker, the rebellious mayor of Middelkerke, has announced he has discovered a legal loophole that will allow him to keep his promise of opening terraces along the seafront on 1 May.
Yesterday the Consultative Committee decided opening up on 1 May was too soon, given the situation of the Covid-19 epidemic in the country, and pushed the opening back to 8 May.
But Dedecker had already promised he would allow his cafe and restaurant terraces to open on 1 May regardless of what the committee decided. And now he claims to have found a way to do so legally.
The plan, paradoxically, involves the city council suspending the terrace licences for all Horeca businesses along the front.
“In this way, the entire seafront will temporarily become public domain and we as a municipality are allowed to place chairs and tables there. Then everyone can order food or drink from the catering establishments and consume it at those tables.”
The loophole, he explained, means that owners of establishments may carry on acting legally, while customers can carry their take-out food and drinks to the city’s tables.
The one thing missing from the equation is table service.
On a previous occasion, the council had placed 30 tables each with four chairs, on the seafront without difficulty. That number will now be increased to 200 tables and 800 chairs – the exact setting imposed by the Consultative Committee yesterday.
Dedecker insists his plan is totally legal.
“We have discussed and studied it extensively with the legal service. True, we are pushing the boundaries, but the absurd rules force us to do so. The measures we are taking now are there to protect health and safety, nothing more or less. We have taken this decision with the members of the city council and in consultation with about 40 catering business owners. There is great enthusiasm.”
One such is Peter Bijvoet of restaurant Deauville, who told De Morgen: “This could have been done earlier because we wanted to open much faster. The mayor will install his own municipal patio furniture, so it has nothing to do with our infrastructure or material. I am very pro, absolutely. I see people picking up take-away meals, but they don’t know where to go with them.”
More cautious was Carine Matton from Bistro@Sea.
“I was afraid of the consequences of opening on May 1 – we’re being scared from all sides. I’m not only thinking of ourselves as a company but also of our customers. What Dedecker is proposing now sounds positive, but I really want to see it in black and white, so as not to be faced with unpleasant surprises.”