Rebuilding the “ghost village” of Doel: “a lot of potential”

Only a handful of people live in Doyle. The village is very popular only with artists, tourists, and a few ancient residents.

Demolition has been canceled

Doel’s shrinkage began more than 20 years ago. The government relocated as many residents as possible to other locations. A new port area had to be built at the Doyle site. But that didn’t happen: There would now only be a new terminal next to Doel. However, the village still exists, but as a ghost village.

The Flemish government now wants to do something about it. And Minister Matthias Dependayel (Housing and Immovable Heritage) is in a hurry. Before summer, he wants to show how he can revive Doel again. “We have to determine which housing options are available if there is an adjacent port terminal operating 24 hours a day.”

Doel lies literally beneath the smog of Antwerp, on the Scheldt River. The nuclear power plant is located on the north side. The harbor is located on the south side.

Disaster tourists

At the end of the 1990s, approximately 1,000 people lived in Doyle. Then the demolition plans became concrete: due to the construction freeze, acquisition, demolition and vandalism, only a few dozen remained. Doyle now frequently visits people who come to see the degradation and graffiti.

“We have now received a number of tourists who are suffering from disasters. This is also causing some inconvenience,” Jan Kreev told RTL Nieuws. It is the spokesperson for Doel 2020, a working group committed to preserving Doel. “I think it is not difficult to develop the village again.”

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How the Doel should be developed Next, the minister will have to investigate in the coming months. Look first, then believe, says Crave. Residents have a difficult relationship with the government.

In 2016, they implemented a court order not to wipe Doyle off the map: The village was on the map as a residential area in all zoning plans.

David vs. Goliath

After this ruling the conflict with the government subsided. “In 2018 we reached an agreement with the government: The expansion of the port will be smaller and the government has also promised to revive Doyle.” But according to Crave, nothing came of it. Hence the wait-and-see attitude now.

“We’ve been fighting David against Goliath for over 20 years,” said Crave. “Our campaigns started in 1997. The working group called itself Doel 2020. That road seems a long way off. Who would have thought we’d continue to take action in 2021?”

Crave himself lives five kilometers from Doyle, in a place that was to disappear until a few years ago in the harbor. “Port plans not only have an impact on Doel, but also the immediate surroundings. More residents are affected than people realize.”

Too much unnecessary damage

Crave says most people left 20 years ago. “For a large number of people, it is the turn of the page. Most of them don’t think about going back, some just consider it. But Doyle will never be the village she was before again.”

Ironically, the 2016 decision then made it clear that they shouldn’t have left. “A lot of unnecessary damage has happened.”

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The question now is to what extent this damage can be repaired. According to Crave, the area has a lot of potential. “There is an architectural heritage. There are houses whose structures are still intact even if they are damaged. And there is interest of people to come and live in them.”

Noise is not a problem

According to Crave, port noise shouldn’t be an issue. In Doel, you can see large ships passing by, but there is an enormous “quality of life buffer”.

“This is a dam that is 24 meters high,” explains Crif. “This makes Doel a relatively quiet place. I think a lot of the villages in Flanders are not nearly as quiet as Doel. It’s also on the river, which also gives the village an extra charm.”

How huge this potential really is, should be clear from the study that the Flemish government is now conducting. Crave is still on standby. “It is now up to a new minister with the intention of putting an end to all this misery and reaching a solution. But the story is not over yet.”

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