Photo: DUB

UU disappointed with municipality's decision to remove Akwaglot from the Singel

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UU is disappointed that the municipality of Utrecht has denied its request to keep the platform floating in the Singel canal until December 2022. The municipality says Akwaglot doesn’t meet the requirements of the city's urban planning scheme, and it does not offer enough added value to the city for the municipality to make an exception. The university disagrees and laments that the programme it had planned for 2022 is no longer going to happen.

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Inaugurated in the summer of 2021, the wooden platform is a floating work of art especially designed for Utrecht University in honour of its lustrum and the lustrum of the University Medical Centre. The artkwork was supposed to serve as a meeting spot to connect the citizens to the university. 

UU only applied to keep the structure floating in the canal until December 2021, but later it had the idea to extend the license for another year, until December 2022, so that the platform could also celebrate the 900th anniversary of the Water Board (De Stichtse Rijnlanden) and the municipality of Utrecht.

No formality
It was clear that the extension would not be a mere formality from the start, as the Akwaglot was heavily criticised: many people called the piece ugly and not enough activities were organised there. However, initiator Mirko Noordegraaf, vice-dean of Societal Impact at the Faculty of Law and Governance, dismissed the criticism in an interview with DUB, saying that the neighbourhood was "very enthusiastic" about the piece and that the pandemic delayed the activities they had planned, but the proramme got going after a successful kickstart in September 2021. Hence his standing behind the extension of the license.

Too high
The municipality has now rejected that request. A letter sent to UU on January 3 states that the platform doesn’t meet the requirements of the city's urban planning scheme, which postulates that no buildings are allowed in the Singel and objects floating in the canal should be up to three metres high. Akwaglot is eight metres tall. Last year, they made an exception because UU was celebrating its 385th anniversary and the project was temporary. The municipality sees no reason to extend the license.

The negative advice from the urban planning department played a significant role in the municipality's decision. They have three main points of criticism: first, that the sizeable piece of art obstructs the passage in the canal. Secondly, the Akwaglot does not abide to the urban planning scheme, which determines that no permanent or semi-permanent buildings or terraces may be built in the canal in order not to affect the continuity and green character of the surrounding park. Finally, the department remarks that the platform is not freely accessible to the public.

The last argument is rather odd as the request to make the platform accessible for everyone was denied by the municipality itself, due to safety considerations.

Covid-proof outdoor location
The university tried to change the municipality's mind with an elaborate e-mail sent at the end of the year. One of UU's arguments is that the social value of the meeting spot weighs more than the continuity of the park. Additionally, the university was planning to hold an extensive programme of events and activities on the platform in 2022, including the celebration of the Water Board's and the municipality's lustrum. Lastly, UU claimed that the Akwaglot would be an excellent Covid-proof setting for outdoor activities.

In its response, the municipality asserts that the platform's social value is less significant than the university assumes. After all, the municipality has received no less than six letters of objection to the extension of the application. Furthermore, the municipality says it was not involved in the creation of the project, which also means it did not agree with the idea to celebrate its own lustrum there. For all these reasons, the artkwork must be removed from the canal before the boating season starts.

The municipality also says in its letter that it has offered to help the university look for another location for the Akwaglot, but the university rejected that offer.

Mirko Noordegraaf says he's disappointed with the municipality's decision and the arguments used. He claims that the artwork's location was chosen by the municipality itself and that it's not true that the university is opposed to discussing another spot. UU can still appeal against the municipality’s decision. If that appeal also gets rejected, then the Akwaglot will move to the Botanical Gardens, its permanent home, a year earlier than planned.

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