Joris Nachtergaele, Source: Joris Nachtergaele / Municipality of Maarkedal

Joris Nachtergaele: I want to put the quality of life in the Flemish countryside on the agenda

Joris Nachtergaele: I want to put the quality of life in the Flemish countryside on the agenda

Interview with Joris Nachtergaele, Mayor of Maarkedal

Joris Nachtergaele is a Belgian politician, serving as mayor of Maarkedal since 2016, deputy of the Flemish parliament and a member of the European Committee of the Regions. He was among the founders of N-VA back in 2001 and since 2006 he has been active at the local level in his hometown Maarkedal.

Mr Nachtergaele, would you introduce the municipality of Maarkedal to our audience? Which is your favourite place in your hometown?

Maarkedal is a beautiful rural community with over 6,000 inhabitants. Our municipality has a number of touristic assets.

We are the heart of cycling tourism in Flanders with the typical cobblestones as public favourite and we have beautiful landscapes and views. An example is my favourite spot in Maarkedal: at the Bossenaere mill, close to the famous Taaienberg (part of the Tour of Flanders) one has a great 360° view on Maarkedal.

You are the first representative of Maarkedal at the Flemish Parliament in about three decades. What local issues would you like to bring to the regional agenda?

There are, of course, various topics, but the most important one is putting the quality of life in the Flemish countryside on the agenda of our parliament. The countryside is often forgotten when it comes to investments, and many voices are raised in favour of living in the city.

People also live in the countryside and we live well here. Nevertheless, we also have many challenges, such as infrastructure, an ageing population and climate challenges. I want to strive for equal treatment between the urban dweller and the rural dweller.

You promised to plant a tree for every vote you get at the regional elections on May 26th, 2019. How far are you towards completing this pledge, one year later?

I got 7,958 votes. In my own garden, the first trees were planted in the autumn of 2019: 1624 trees.

I also invested in a nature project, which resulted in the planting of 855 trees. As a result, the current figure is 2,529. There are a number of plans in the pipeline for the planting of the next 5,000 trees, including the organisation of a tree-planting campaign for the entire community.

The greenery and energy efficiency of the municipality are among the most important topics of the municipal agreement. What goals do you have for the 2019-2025 term and how do you plan to achieve them?

A few points from the Maarkedal administrative agreement on greenery and energy efficiency:

  • We want to accelerate the replacement of all public lighting with smart LED lighting. This will enable us to make drastic savings. LED lighting is also more energy-efficient and lasts much longer.
  • We will investigate how we can make the public vehicle fleet even more sustainable. We are investigating the purchase of shared bicycles and a shared car for communal use by municipal staff and residents.
  • The municipality will investigate the idea of 'sunsharing'. Not everyone has a suitable roof to install solar panels themselves. That is why we should investigate how our municipality can make certain roofs available to our residents who, through cooperatives, can invest in solar energy.
  • Our municipality purchases materials on a daily basis: from office furnishings to materials for the green service. Wherever possible, our municipality opts for the environmentally friendly alternative: in its own purchases, tenders, the joint purchase of durable goods, maintenance, achieving extended warranties and so on.
  • The typical landscape must be preserved. The industrialisation of agriculture causes the disappearance of landscape elements such as hedges and rows of trees as well as erosion problems. We want to develop a policy that encourages the replanting of such landscape elements. We do see a role for our farmers as landscape managers.
  • By drawing up a roadside management plan, we ensure that the individuality of the fauna and flora in our verges along the roads in Maarkedal is preserved.

One of the largest municipal investments is previewed for the realization of a multifunctional centre De Maalzaak (5,250,000 euros). Could you tell us more about this project and why is it so important?

In rural areas, social cohesion is under pressure. Many social meeting centres are disappearing because of economic reality.

Pubs are closing because of the small community and as a result, our social associations no longer have a place to meet. De Maalzaak will be multifunctional and will become the centre of the municipality for sport, culture, youth, etc. Very soon, this project will be started.

In which role do you feel the most at ease – at the Flemish Parliament, as Committee of the Regions Member or as a Mayor of Maarkedal?

I don't feel comfortable choosing one of these mandates. On the contrary, the combination of the three provides more input from different environments, more insight into the visions that exist and a better and substantiated opinion/policy as a politician. I take my baggage from the other mandates with me at each level, which makes me feel comfortable at every level.

Then, if you had to mention just one top priority for your term at each of the three institutions, which one would it be?

Local: stimulating the social cohesion of my community. Corona shows us how important our social life as a human being is. I will focus on the support of our community life on financial and policy level.

In Flemish Parliament: I will focus on the quality of life of the rural communities of the Flemish countryside and on transcending the so-called contradiction between agriculture and the environment.

CoR: Important consultative platform to bring different best practices back to Maarkedal locally and to better understand each other's views under the adage 'unity in diversity'.

Is there an interesting practice from your municipality that you believe can serve as an example to other local governments in the EU?

  • We want to launch an idea which we hope other municipalities in Flanders will follow: ‘Not for one day’. One day we commit ourselves not to use a smartphone or PC and not to watch TV. The whole community will organise activities which will bring people together.
  • By drawing up a roadside management plan, we ensure that the individuality of the fauna and flora in our verges along the roads in Maarkedal is preserved. We have 185 kilometres of roads. If you double it, we have almost 400 kilometres of roadside green. Follow-up by other municipalities could provide a lot of extra hectares of nature in Flanders or Europe.



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