Big City Nights: Antwerp

Pictures by Simon Leloup & Annika Wallis

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In anticipation of Full Circle on November 10, an event that takes place across 12 different venues in Antwerp, we asked ourselves what the current state of the relation between local nightlife and politics is. When Mathias De Clercq, the mayor of Ghent, wanted to shut down Kompass for four months last spring, it became painfully clear that both sides are still miles away from being on the same page. The Ghent club is not an isolated event either. Nightlife and local government regularly lock horns on various issues. Do politics view clubs, cafés and festivals mainly as a nuisance or do they also appreciate the potential? In short, how do our metropoles deal with nightlife on their territory? Do they implement a specific 'nightlife' policy and, if so, where does it fit into a wider general policy? What relationship do local politics have with their key nightlife players? Is there an ongoing dialogue or do both sides only start talking when problems occur? How does the city feel about a night mayor like the one in Amsterdam or Berlin? Are 24-hour permits a feasible option, or are people opposed to it? We put all these questions to the policymakers of various major cities in our country. In this first article, we talk to Johan Vermant, spokesperson for Mayor De Wever's cabinet.

How does nightlife fit in with the City of Antwerp’s general policy?

“The main ambition of the city council is to reconcile nightlife with the quality of life in the surrounding neighbourhoods. Not an easy challenge when you consider city districts like the Eilandje, which is currently in full development. We closely monitor the situation with both the owners and the residents. To do that, the city has appointed a hospitality manager who plans structural consultation meetings with specific groups of managers (of student cafés, for example). She is also the first point of contact for the bigger clubs, but at that level, consultation is on an ad hoc basis only. The majority of clubs do have a regular contact person with local police, though."

"Additionally, the current administrative agreement is planning to introduce a Safe Party Label. The city, police, nightlife sector and taxi sector will work closely together to ensure a safe nightlife. We draw up covenants in which we ask owners to safeguard peace and security in the public space and to ban problematic visitors systematically. Based on police reports, problematic visitors can be prohibited from attending certain locations. Owners and managers who subscribe to this covenant are awarded a Safe Party Label. Additionally, the city has participated in the Quality Nights Charter, which mainly focuses on preventive measures like free earplugs and drinking water, safe transport options and health information. The Safe Party Label is more geared towards actual security measures."

The central question we need to ask ourselves from a legislative, administrative point of view is: would the nuisance, drug use, etc. exist if the establishment wasn't there?

Is this Safe Party Label an extension of the Safe Zones introduced in certain locations a few years back, giving visitors access to affiliated clubs based on his / her identity card? Will this covenant grant managers more options to subject visitors to their own checks and searches?

“At the moment we are working hard on preparing the modalities. We are not far into the new administrative agreement, so there’s not a lot we can say on the matter yet."

What’s the city’s view on the idea of a night mayor building bridges between nightlife entrepreneurs on the one hand and local government on the other?

“We do not favour the idea of a night mayor, since we already have a hospitality manager who can take on a mediating role in case of problems, as in other cities. Also, we only have a handful of big clubs in Antwerp, and the diversity of the nightlife sector - student cafés, party venues, clubs, regular cafés - requires a tailor-made approach.”

What’s the city’s view on the idea of a 24-hour permit?

“There are a couple of cafés in Antwerp without closing hours, like De Rui and De Koetsier. However, we’re not aware of any initiatives within the club sector to stay open around the clock. Should the question arise, we’ll look into it, obviously keeping in mind the quality of life and any necessary security measures. Cities that do award 24-hour permits, like Amsterdam, usually impose strict location limitations.”

Can a club be held responsible for the drug use of its visitors? Does this not just force parties to shift towards illegality without any supervision at all?

"New legislation (Gemeentewet and Drugswet) states that managers are indeed legally responsible for public order on and around their premises and for the potential use or selling of drugs. That doesn't necessarily imply any conscious personal liability. The central question we need to ask ourselves from a legislative, administrative point of view is: "Would the nuisance, drug use, etc. exist if the establishment wasn't there?" If the answer to that question is no, certain measures could be imposed. Those might include specific conditions, such as security measures or infrastructural changes. In extreme cases, a temporary closure could be enforced. That, however, is a rare occurrence in Antwerp, and is usually linked to a period during which owners can apply certain conditions.”