Doel – 400-year-old village north-west of Antwerp that has been at the heart of a political battle for survival for over two decades. A state-funded corporation is seeking to raze it to make way for the land-hungry port of Antwerp. But members of the ever-dwindling local populace are fighting to keep their homes and the village alive. They say a second container dock isn’t necessary since the previous one, which opened in 2005, is being used to less than a fifth of its capacity (the corporation disputes this figure). What’s more, they argue, the riverside village has lush nature, culture and heritage in abundance – plus the first stone-mill in Belgium and a listed early 17th-century house that belonged to Peter Paul Rubens’s family.
From a population of around 1,300 in the early 70s, there are now only 25 inhabitants left. But they are a brave and well-organised bunch. A 52-year-old named Marina Apers is their unlikely champion. She lives in a house emblazoned with banners announcing that she and her husband will “leave Doel over our dead bodies”. “Every time the government succeed in something, we start legal procedures against them – and mostly, we win,” she says. So far, the EU’s strict environmental laws have been on the villagers’ side: Doel is, among other things, home to one of Europe’s largest swallow colonies.