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Kris Declercq, Source: City of Roeselare

Kris Declercq: My policy has always been based on 'investing in people'

Kris Declercq: My policy has always been based on 'investing in people'

Interview with the Mayor of Roeselare, Belgium

Kris Declercq (born 1972) has been the Mayor of Roeselare since 2016. His administration has focused on retail, city-planning, communication and safety.

He obtained a Master of Law at KU Leuven and specialized in commercial and constitutional law at the University of Stellenbosch (South Africa). He has been advisor to Prime Ministers Yves Leterme and Herman Van Rompuy in the fields of constitutional law and local government.

In 2006, Declercq became a deputy-mayor for urban planning and economic development in Roeselare.

Besides his work as a Mayor, Declercq presides over ‘West-Vlaamse Intercommunale’, which unites 54 cities in Western Flanders and is member of the “Eurometropole” general assembly, a cross-border metropolitan area of more than 2 000 000 people.

Mr Declercq, would you briefly present the municipality of Roeselare to the audience of TheMayor.EU?

Roeselare (more than 63 000 inhabitants) is situated in the heart of West-Flanders (Flanders-Belgium), near to the North Sea and French border. It is also the largest city of the Midwest, a region of approximately 240 000 inhabitants, and is a city characterized by many businesses in agriculture and horticulture: we call ourselves 'The Food Valley' because almost a quarter of all Western European frozen food production comes from our region.

Roeselare is connected by train, highway and water to the rest of Belgium and Europe. Also, we make part of the Eurometropole, a cross-border metropolitan area of more than 2 000 000 people.

You have been involved in the municipal government for quite some time now: as an alderman since 2007, and as mayor since 2016. What do you consider to be your greatest achievements so far?

My policy has always been based on 'investing in people', meaning quality of life, solidarity and entrepreneurship are central, combined with a fair and efficient administration.  By investing in smart people, the transition to a smart city, new technological developments in the field of digitalization, 'internet of things’ and new communication tools can also be realized.

Roeselare is known in Flanders as one of the shopping cities, entrepreneurship is part of our DNA. Here, too, we need to anticipate international trends that are bringing about change: a changing consumption landscape, internationalization, jobs that are independent of time and place, automation and a gap between supply and demand in the labour market.

We developed a comprehensive plan to turn the 'high street' back into a lively meeting place: our knowledge centre and library (ARhus), cultural centres and shopping malls, spaces for children, and the replacement of parking spaces by green squares are all now integrated in the city centre. This experience means that our traditional commercial environment has also received a new boost.

But in times of online shopping this is a permanent challenge.  Our plan has also inspired a number of cities in the UK, so we learn from each other at times.

Although Roeselare is a small town we also look beyond national borders. We actively participate in the Eurometropole, we have been an active partner of Eurotowns since this year and are increasingly valued as a reliable and inspiring partner in European projects.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Many young and old people are coming to live in our town, which has changed enormously over the past 10 years. This raises additional questions, such as: how to deal with space and how to provide more green spaces in our urban environment.

As a guideline we follow the 17 UN sustainable development objectives.  In this way, we have provided our town with own energy through an underground 'heating network'. We invest in forest planting, and we ensure that high-rise buildings remain compatible with a city tailored to the needs of the people. In our mobility policy, too, we are realising a 'climate switch' by giving green mobility more opportunities.

Because we are in the heart of a large horticulture and agriculture area, a good and smart water management is of fundamental importance. Our ambition is to develop in the upcoming years a system with buffer basins, both public and private, and a high-performance platform fed by an intricate network of sensors for water levels and rainfall. This should allow us to intervene appropriately in periods of both flooding and water shortages.

Roeselare is a regional centre providing jobs to many people from the surrounding area. What measures has the municipality implemented to support the local economy and protect jobs since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic?

Roeselare Town Council put a lot of effort into offering a hygienic and corona-safe environment in the city centre streets. In this way an effort was made to keep the core shopping area as attractive as possible, even in COVID times. We call it SAFE shopping instead of FUN shopping, because we have transformed the public domain into a safe environment to walk and to shop with social distancing rules, alcohol gel dispensers, city guards, walking lines, etc.

Meanwhile, efforts were made to support the retailers. This involved offering advertisements free of charge, distributing voucher leaflets also free of charge, scratch card actions at horeca outlets, eliminating the terrace tax, Mother’s Day initiative, which turned into a ‘thank-you’ initiative to the care sector, offering gift voucher platforms, etc.

We also worked on setting up and promoting a 'Shop-local’ website, with a list of local merchants that offer take-aways or pickups or work with a web shop.

Efforts were also made to continue organising the weekly market safely. 

The funding possibilities in the Shop#VANRSL programme and De Geziene Vitrine (‘The seen storefront’) were strongly promoted among the retail owners and interested start-ups.

In November, the Municipality distributed packages to each local school, to help them measure the air quality in classrooms. Could you tell us more about this measure and why it is important?

The Care and Health Agency advises, in addition to basic hygiene precautionary principles, to also take measures for ventilation in classrooms. This could help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The CO2 concentration in the air is an indicator of the indoor air quality. Measuring CO2 concentration in classrooms can be an indicator to the need for ventilation in a classroom.

This possibility for support was examined.

A survey of the coordinating principals shows that all schools are prepared to raise awareness among schools and teachers but investing in CO2 meters for each school and classroom is not financially feasible. Some schools have already purchased a number of devices. And all the schools are asking for extra CO2 meters for use in school buildings.

In addition to making CO2 measuring devices available, a specific measurement plan will also be necessary to correctly analyse and interpret measurements in order to be able to take appropriate responses. This is the responsibility of each school and school board.

It is important for those measurements to take into account the environmental conditions (external temperature, wind, whether windows are open or not, etc.) in order to be able to make the correct analysis. Which actions are necessary to go below the CO2 threshold value? Are they organizational (e.g. opening windows more) or technical (e.g. infrastructural adjustments)?

In urban educational buildings, CO2 measurements were started. It was found that, on one hand, this contributes to awareness among teachers to ventilate the classrooms more. On the other hand, this creates expectations for the local government as an organizing body with regard to adjustments in the infrastructure of school buildings (classrooms that score poorly). The school boards must be aware of the effect that the measurements can have on the monitoring and action plan.

Every campus in Roeselare (primary education, secondary education and higher education) received a package with

  • a CO2 meter
  • a template for drawing up a measurement plan
  • 10 tips & tricks for appropriate actions

Finally, is there a good practice or initiative from your municipality that you would like to recommend to other mayors in the European Union?

I would like to mention two of these. First and foremost, I am extremely proud of the enormous progress that we as a town council have made in recent years in terms of public services, both externally and internally.

In addition, I am also pleased that we have made great strides with regards to the quality of life in the town, both in terms of infrastructure and its human dimension.

To be more precise, in terms of external services:

  • As a government, we are always available to our residents and companies on various channels: the 1788 call centre, mail, WhatsApp, social media, Chatbot, etc.
  • Reports are automatically processed and forwarded to the services that have to deal with the problems;

In terms of internal services:

  • We have transformed ourselves into a one-stop shop and we monitor the ins and outs of the organization via our own reporting tool and dashboard;
  • Our employees are continuously given the opportunity to better themselves, through the Fit4Work program - an offer of healthier living and exercise.

When it comes to liveability, the advances in infrastructure include:

  • The station environment was thoroughly transformed into an inviting open space that is easily accessible;
  • The central squares became a lot greener, with the pinnacle of achievement being the conversion of a parking lot into a green zone;
  • The building of a new swimming pool and a new knowledge centre with focus on experience and added value for residents;
  • Efforts to keep the city clean and to ban litter;
  • The opening of Koers - a unique museum of cycling;
  • The ambition to plant 100 000 new trees in the coming years.

Finally, for the progress in human dimension there is:

  • Neighbourhood program that focuses on involvement;
  • The merger of all welfare services into a welfare house;
  • The construction of the largest private hospital in Flanders;
  • ‘Roeselare vrijwilligt’ - a platform for volunteers;
  • The many helping hands of volunteers during the pandemic;
  • And the enormous leisure time possibilities.

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