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Inspiration | Innovation | Cooperation

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alfa NEWS

The power of stake-holders

Interview with Annelies Haesevoets (Hellekens project, Belgium)

One minute you’re working hard on a project, the next you’re forced to end it. It happened to Annelies Haesevoets, project manager at VMM, the Flemish Environment Agency. At the Kleine Nete river in Hellekens, a region close to Antwerp, Haesevoets’ team worked at the reduction of food risk, avoiding water excess for agriculture and to avoid water shortage for nature. They thought they had all stakeholders at their side, but they forgot one.

“You can get surprised where your opponents can come from,” Haese-voets says. In this case, the opponent was a yachting club, that disapproved the VMM’s plan to pump sand into a pond. The sand would come from the Hellekens area, where a food re-tention area would be constructed. It would be used to make the pond

less steep and to elevate it a little. The yachting cub initiated a petition. “It was a very small group of people, versus a big silent majority. But the petition caught a lot of media atten-tion, which caused a big decrease in political support.” Exit project.

“It was very unfortunate that we

couldn’t fnish the Hellekens project,” she says. “Because the duration of the ALFA project was limited, we had to accept it and focus on something else. Luckily, we were able to realise another project.” In the area of Ha-len, a city in the Limburg province, an alternative storage capacity was built. Recreational facilities were re-alised, such as an embedded path-way under a bridge.

Raising awareness of the importance

But the frst project, Hellekens, has not been forgotten. “It is still very important to us,” Haesevoets says. Because VMM had already funded the second project, it could save the money from the ALFA project for the Hellekens project. Therefore, it would still be possible to continue

there. “Right now we are trying to raise awareness of the importance of the plan with the people of the silent majority, so that there will be more support for it.”

The most important thing ALFA taught Haesevoets was the impor-tance of communication. “Before ALFA, it wasn’t something we inves-ted a lot of time in. Nowadays, with every project we fnish, we make sure we engage the community, for instance by inviting people for infor-

mation nights.” These gatherings are festive, there are drinks and snacks, but the team makes sure it conveys its message. “We tell people about the future, too. They have to know that there are limits to all measures we can take. There is no such thing as safety forever, we have to keep working on food prevention.” <

“You can get surprised where your opponents can come from.”

The importance of communication

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