Access To Land

Sale of public land by the municipality of Ghent

Can public land sales indirectly subsidise landowners?

As with many municipalities in Europe, the municipality of Ghent, Belgium, owns farms and farmland, properties of historic significance used for centuries to produce food for the city and support the poor.

Over recent years, the municipality has sold off large areas of farmland: 170 hectares in 2015, 450 hectares in 2016. The latter was sold to release money for the building of a retirement home, service center and various assisted living apartments. The land goes for sale to the highest bidder, with no protection or any specific uses or users given priority.

The 450 hectares sold in 2016 were sold in one block, making it impossible for local, agroecological farmers to buy the land. Located in the nearby area of the Netherlands, it was bought by a Dutch company in turn owned by a company based in Luxembourg of which the CEO is a local businessman. The plot was sold for €17,513,000, i.e. a price of more or less €39,000 per hectare. This is well below the market price: in the area farmland usually sells for €65,000/ha (up to €100,000). The CEO stated that he was only buying because the price of the land was so attractive.

Two farmers and a citizen of the city of Ghent are now taking the municipality to Court for not respecting the rules of public sale and for indirectly subsidising a company through a land sale. By being allowed to buy the land at a price of €39,000 per hectare, they claim that the company received an indirect subsidy of about 5 million Euros. The first Court declared that it was not qualified to hear the case. The farmers now count on a judgement on appeal.


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