Security firm patrolling public spaces in the Gare district and in Bonnevoie
QUESTION POSED BY CHRISTA BRÖMMEL
The agreement with GDL Security for the surveillance of public spaces in the Gare district and Ville-Haute, which the City of Luxembourg signed in October 2020, will expire at the end of January 2021. The College of Aldermen would now like to prolong and expand the agreement without causing a fuss.
At the municipal council meeting on 7 December 2020, the measure was disapproved by the LSAP, déi Lénk and déi gréng groups, and our views remain unchanged: the agreement fails to take into account the Law of 2002 on private security firms, which makes no provision for the surveillance of public spaces by such firms. In our opinion, it also fails to take into account Article 97 of the Constitution, which provides that ensuring the security of public spaces is the sole remit of the police. Consequently, employees of private security firms have practically no authority. As such, the public was given a promise that cannot be honoured. The image of the police has been deliberately tarnished.
The use of private security firms in this way raises other issues as well, including the purview of municipal employees, the negative impact on the reputation and work of the police and compatibility with the work carried out by social services. While these issues are important, they are, in our opinion, secondary to the issue of legality. However, the majority maintains that this is not relevant.
QUESTION POSED BY ANA CORREIA DA VEIGA
While it is regrettable that Councillors Brömmel and Krieps were not given the opportunity to explain why we believe the agreement with the private security firm is illegal, I will now put my question to the council.
On what grounds does the College of Aldermen justify prolonging the agreement and expanding the remit of the private security firm to cover the Bonnevoie district?
Mayor Lydie Polfer and Alderman Laurent Mosar keep referring to positive feedback from members of the public, and have announced that the measures would be assessed before deciding on how to proceed.
In several interviews on RTL on 15 January 2021, it was said that arrests were made with the help of the private security firm. What was the extent of the private security firm's involvement with the police when the arrests were made? Are the security firm's employees authorised to detain people? Is it true that since the introduction of patrols by the security firm, police presence has been increased in the Gare district?
Media reports referred to an interview that was scheduled with the Minister of Home Affairs. If that meeting has already take place: What was the outcome of the meeting, and what conclusions has the College of Aldermen drawn as a result? If the meeting has not yet taken place: Why doesn't the College of Aldermen wait until the meeting is held before deciding on new measures?
Furthermore, we have yet to receive any satisfactory replies to several issues that were raised in our urgent question of 7 December 2020: Who does the private security firm report to? What is done with its reports? What steps are taken if the security firm is found to have overstepped its powers? What role do the dogs that accompany the security firm's employees play? Are they meant to be a deterrent? Are they meant to intimidate? Are they used as a pre-emptive defence measure, or for drug detection, or are they only ornamental? Why are the dogs only used in the Gare district and not in Ville-Haute?
Has the College of Aldermen consulted with local social services stakeholders? What conclusions have they drawn, and what are the social services stakeholders' concerns? Would it be possible to obtain a report on the meeting in question?
MAYOR LYDIE POLFER
Since the topic has already been discussed by the municipal council, I would ask Councillor Brömmel to restrict her questions to those that have been submitted in writing.
I feel that we should be given the opportunity to explain the reasons for our questions.
MAYOR LYDIE POLFER
The College of Aldermen will reply to the questions submitted in writing. The debate will not be reopened during this question and answer session.
In that case, I give the floor to Councillor Ana Correia Da Veiga, who will now put our questions to the council.
RESPONSE PROVIDED BY THE MAYOR, LYDIE POLFER
I will respond to the questions in the order in which they were submitted in writing. First of all, the authors of the question have expressed the view that having assigned the tasks in question to the private security firm is beyond doubt illegal. There is absolutely no truth to this! Like the City of Differdange, the College of Aldermen did nothing illegal.
The political party that is supposed to ensure security at the national level, and to provide legal clarity in this matter, is using double standards. Allow me to remind you that you sent a long letter to the Minister of Home Affairs, and that the minister replied that it was the mayor's duty to ensure the security and cleanliness of their municipality.
The meeting with the Minister of Home Affairs that you mentioned has indeed taken place. At that meeting, the minister suggested that we clarify the description of the duties assigned to the private security firm. We have done so, clarifying the description of its duties as follows: "The surveillance of municipal infrastructure and facilities in public parks and spaces by maintaining a visible presence within the perimeter assigned at the beginning of the performance of the contract, which perimeter is subject to revision; should the need arise, provide assistance to persons in difficulty, insofar as legally permitted, notably under the provisions of Article 43 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Code de procédure pénale) and Articles 410-1 and 410-2 of the Criminal Code (Code pénal); call the police in the event of an incident". That is exactly what the private security firm has done over the last two months.
This morning, we had a very useful discussion at a meeting of the Municipal Prevention Committee (Comité de prévention communal). The Public Prosecutor's Office applauded the fact that a number of issues are finally being addressed, such as, the purview of private security firms. Such duties should have already been set out in the Law of 2002, but were not in light of the objections raised by the Council of State (Conseil d'État). This morning, it was emphasised that this would finally be remedied and that other legal measures to clarify the duties of all concerned should be adopted.
To respond to one of the questions put by Councillor Brömmel, namely whether a conflict occurred at any time within the last two months (with the police and other stakeholders on the ground, and in particular with persons involved in the "À vos côtés" project), the Director of Police with responsibility for the capital replied very clearly that the answer was "no".
Currently, the daily reports drawn up by the security firm are forwarded only to the City of Luxembourg's Legal Unit (Cellule juridique), and not to the police. The reports can be viewed by the members of the municipal council. We cannot analyse them all here and now, but we are willing to do so at a meeting of the relevant advisory committee. According to the reports, the employees of the security firm noted that police patrols were more frequent last month, which is welcome news. Of course, only the police can write up police reports and arrest people.
The dogs are mainly used by the security firm's officers as a means of self-defence but, so far, have never had to be used for that purpose. Situations have arisen in which things got out of hand and the security firm's officers assisted the police. I can only urge everyone to read Victor Weitzel's article in the "Forum" magazine. The description of the situation in the Gare district perfectly reflects the reality on the ground. However, I disagree with the author's own political conclusions.
As the presence of the security firm's officers and "À vos côtés" personnel has made residents feel safer and generally improved the situation, we have decided to prolong the contract – initially for two months – as we hope that things will finally be clarified in terms of who is authorised to intervene when people block the entrances to homes, cook and relieve themselves there, and leave syringes lying around. For many years, it has been the police's view that they are not authorised to intervene for such matters. In July 2020, during a debate in Parliament, the Minister for the Police (Ministre de la Police) at the time, François Bausch, said that we could no longer continue to stand by while nothing was being done, and that he would do his best to have a law drawn up allowing the police to intervene. In November, I was told that discussions on this issue had not yet begun. The current Minister for the Police seems to have a few ideas on how to address this issue. I hope that we will soon get the go-ahead so that the police could intervene to deal with the impossible situations that residents of the Gare district are exposed to on a daily basis.
In any case, we will have to issue another invitation to tender in two months. We are currently examining the feasibility of extending the perimeter within which the security firm is authorised to operate, to include a part of the Bonnevoie district, for example.
The City of Luxembourg has ongoing contact with the "À vos côtés" project stakeholders. In fact, the expenses incurred for this project are much higher than those for the private security firm. In both cases, the police were ready to provide specific training. Training courses have been organised for "À vos côtés" project personnel, but those intended for the security firm's officers were cancelled by the relevant minister.
The City of Luxembourg also has ongoing contact with the other social services stakeholders. Additionally, we have assigned more personnel to Abrigado, and there are now more staff on the ground from the City's Service Hygiène (Sanitation Department).
Nevertheless, the overall situation, which has led to an increase in the number of burglaries in the Gare district and Bonnevoie, must change. This will require a cooperative approach involving all the stakeholders concerned, i.e. the police, the judiciary, the Ministry of Health (Ministère de la Santé) and the Ministry of Family Affairs (Ministère de la Famille). In December 2020, I sent another letter on this issue to three ministers, and the Government announced that it would develop a coherent approach.
I find some of the information contained in the security firm's reports to be very disturbing. Certain sections suggest the dogs have in fact been used. This is totally unacceptable! This is likely to diminish the police's powers. The meeting of the relevant advisory committee that you proposed should be held as soon as possible so that we can discuss the matter.
MAYOR LYDIE POLFER
The police's Regional Director responded very clearly this morning that at no time did anything happen that could be considered inappropriate.
I have my doubts about that.
MAYOR LYDIE POLFER
Allow me to remind you that Minister Bausch referred to a "Nigerian mafia". If you cannot acknowledge the facts, then you are nowhere near resolving the problems. We will gladly convene a meeting of the advisory committee to discuss this matter.
Of the additional 30 people deployed by the police in the Gare district in 2019, 20 were police officers, 8 were members of the judicial police, and 2 were officers from the police's canine division. Yet, by June 2020, the situation had returned to what it was before. It is therefore crucial that all stakeholders continue to liaise with one another to gain a better understanding of the problem.
Waiving of rental income for business premises belonging to the City of Luxembourg
First of all, I would like to say that I find it absolutely outrageous that you, Madam Mayor, could spend half an hour responding to a question, but could not allow Councillor Brömmel, and the other two authors of the written question on the private security firm, even a few minutes to present the arguments on which their question is based. That the College of Aldermen could be allowed to treat the opposition Councillors in this way is unworthy of the City of Luxembourg's municipal council. Acting in this way is tantamount to forcing us to introduce an item on the agenda for the next meeting just so that we can have the chance to develop our arguments.
MAYOR LYDIE POLFER
Mr Benoy, there is absolutely no truth to that statement! Councillor Correia asked all the questions that were listed in the written question. As Councillor Brömmel had begun to raise the entire issue again, I simply asked her to restrict her questions to those that had been submitted in writing. Councillor Correia put those questions to the council and I responded to them. I would ask you, therefore, to stick to the facts.
QUESTION POSED BY FRANÇOIS BENOY
The fact is that we were not given the opportunity to develop our arguments, and the manner in which you have treated us today is deeply regrettable.
Here, then, is my question: As we all know, the hospitality and catering sector is facing difficult times owing to the public-health crisis, and this is what representatives of the sector are seeking to highlight once again through their Saturday gatherings.
I have read in the press that, further to the most recent forced closure, the City of Luxembourg has decided to waive the rents for the 30 business premises belonging to the City, and to extend the measure to restaurant and café operators for the entire duration of the closure. We fully support this measure.
However, it is my understanding that the College of Aldermen intends to apply the waiver to only half of the rent for restaurants offering takeaway meals. I have heard reports that takeaway meals are not profitable, and only serve to mitigate losses. As such, earnings from takeaway meals are no more than a drop in the ocean. Does the College of Aldermen know what percent of restaurants' turnover takeaway meals account for? What was the basis for the College of Aldermen's decision that restaurants offering takeaway meals should pay half their rent? How many restaurants are affected by this measure?
I would also like to know when we can expect a meeting of the Urban and Economic Development Commission (Commission du développement urbain et économique) to be convened so that we can discuss the outcome of and prospects for the financial aid granted to restaurants and other businesses by the City of de Luxembourg. I had asked for a meeting of that commission to be convened more than six months ago.
RESPONSE PROVIDED BY ALDERMAN SERGE WILMES
I would like to thank Councillor Benoy for his questions, and we welcome his support of this measure, which we decided on together. This particular measure was adopted as a complement to the support measures that we adopted during the initial lockdown. I would like to make it clear that the waiver of half the amount of the monthly rent has not been applied across the board. Rather, what the College of Aldermen has tried to do is to take into account, insofar as possible, the specific situation of each of the 30 businesses in question occupying business premises belonging to the City.
The hospitality and catering sector has been at a complete standstill since 26 November. As such, for the restaurants in question, that is to say those operating out of City-owned business premises, the rents for the months of December, January and February will be fully waived. The waiver applies to 13 of the 30 City-owned business premises.
For businesses offering takeaway meals, the City waived one month's rent instead of two, since these businesses have fewer customers but can still continue to operate. This measure applies to six businesses.
The remaining 11 stores (for example, garment retailers) were only forced to close for three weeks (from Christmas to mid-January). For these 11 businesses, we waived half of the rent.
For businesses in the hospitality and catering sector, the measure will be maintained for as long as the forced closure remains in effect.
To respond to the question as to why an advisory committee meeting on this issue has not yet been convened: this was simply an unfortunate oversight. It was not intentional.
MAYOR LYDIE POLFER
We have tried to be as fair as possible.
You have not yet responded to the question on whether you know how much of a loss in turnover the businesses concerned have suffered. As I said earlier, I have heard reports that takeaway is no more than a drop in the ocean. We believe, therefore, that it would have been more sensible to waive the whole month's rent for all the businesses concerned.
ALDERMAN SERGE WILMES
We do not have that information, but we do know those companies and their owners or managers well. We felt it was fair to make a distinction between those businesses that are authorised to remain partially open and those that are not.
MAYOR LYDIE POLFER
The same principle is applied for furloughed employees: businesses are indemnified only for those employees who have not worked.
Recurring pollution of the Pétrusse
QUESTION POSED BY TOM KRIEPS
Last year, the media reported several cases of pollution in the Pétrusse, allegedly from a work site just off Route d’Esch. A report for a criminal offence has been filed with the Public Prosecutor's Office. Although the Pétrusse belongs to the State, I would like to know if the City of Luxembourg is aware of these incidents. Which work site is responsible for the pollution? What steps does the City of Luxembourg intend to take to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future?
RESPONSE PROVIDED BY ALDERWOMAN SIMONE BEISSEL
Even though the City of Luxembourg undertakes maintenance works on and around the Pétrusse, the Pétrusse falls under the authority of the State. Between August and November 2020, the stream was found to be polluted on several occasions. In some cases, the City was informed by the fire brigade or the police, in others, the pollution was brought to our attention by our Service Canalisation (Sewer Department).
The worst case of pollution was attributed to a building located at number 38, Rue de Strasbourg. A company was dumping used fuel oil from a tank into the rainwater drainage system and, from there, the fuel oil was discharged directly into the Pétrusse. The fire brigade informed the City of Luxembourg, which immediately initiated legal proceedings. The proceedings are currently under way.
The other cases occurred on 29 September, 20 & 27 October and 6 November 2020, at a work site located near Route d’Esch, and more specifically on Rue Baudoin and Rue de la Vallée. There are grey marl deposits throughout the entire area. When it rains, or when underground water seeps in to the excavation, this clayey soil turns into a grey mush. The relevant regulations established by the Administration de la gestion de l'eau (Water Management Authority) provide that a container be installed in which the grey mush can settle, as it is heavier than water. Filters must be installed and only then can the liquid part be evacuated into the drainage system. The Administration de la gestion de l'eau and the police visited the site, but the company in question changed nothing in its operations.
Yet, the City of Luxembourg cannot file a complaint. Even though the Pétrusse looked as though it had been filled with cement, and despite the fact that marl can negatively impact flora and fauna because of its consistency, marl is nevertheless a naturally occurring matter. Currently, the City can only issue warnings for such infringements. We subsequently conducted an on-site inspection and found that the regulations were being more or less complied with. Neither the City nor the Administration de la gestion de l'eau possesses the resources to take effective steps against such incidents. Appropriate sanctions should be introduced by law. Options may also exist in the City's General Regulations on Public Order and Safety (Règlement général de police).
We plan to install additional "first flush" filters to filter out the larger impurity particles before they reach the Pétrusse, and divert them to the Beggen water treatment plant. However, such works are costly.
Municipal authorities' right of first refusal
I am going to make a brief statement to set the background before giving the floor to Councillor Margue, who will then put the question on this topic to the council. On 5 January 2021, the Administrative Court (Cour administrative) handed down a ruling in a case involving the municipality of Sanem. The problem arose from the fact that only the municipal council, and not the College of Aldermen, could decide whether or not to exercise the municipality's right of first refusal. In the case in question, given the frequency of municipal council meetings, the 30-day time limit was too short. Furthermore, the municipalities in question were required to file a project for the land in question immediately, which was clearly impossible within such a short time frame. With the Administrative Court's ruling, the situation has changed.
QUESTION POSED BY ELISABETH MARGUE
The issue of the municipality's right of first refusal was often raised at municipal council meetings in the recent past, and rightly so as this is an important instrument. Owing to shaky case law and in light of a circular on the topic issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the City has had to refrain from exercising its right of first refusal on several occasions.
In its ruling of 5 January 2021, the Administrative Court held that the College of Aldermen could take a decision to exercise the right of first refusal, and that the municipal council need only approve that decision thereafter (before the notarial deed is signed). Also according to the ruling, the municipality is not required to file a concrete project immediately, since this is not possible for municipalities. As such, the Administrative Court's ruling reflects a very pragmatic approach that promotes achieving the objectives of the Housing Pact (Pacte logement).
Last week, a weekly reported that the Administrative Court had saved the right of first refusal. It is unfortunate that the right of first refusal had to be saved, and that it could not have been saved by the politicians themselves. As a result, we have lost a whole year.
How does the City of Luxembourg interpret this welcome ruling, and how will this ruling affect the City's policies in the future?
RESPONSE PROVIDED BY ALDERMAN LAURENT MOSAR
The College of Aldermen welcomes the Administrative Court's ruling with relief, as this issue has caused us a lot of trouble within the last few months. We would like to thank the political leaders of the municipality of Sanem for appealing the Administrative Tribunal's first ruling and for making this Administrative Court ruling possible. This ruling confirms our assessment of the first-instance ruling and of the related circulars issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
This is the second time that the Minister of Home Affairs has been contradicted by the Administrative Court. The first ruling was in connection with a circular on the conditions that municipalities were required to satisfy further to a ruling against the Housing Fund (Fonds du Logement). We were also opposed to that circular. The Minister of Home Affairs has now been contradicted once again, after having founded his circulars on the right of first refusal on a first-instance ruling, which cannot really be considered as case law. Because of these legally and politically clumsy circulars, the City has lost practically a whole year in terms of exercising its right of first refusal.
Councillor Margue referred to an article in the weekly "Lëtzebuerger Land", which rightly reported that the judicial authorities saved municipalities' right of first refusal. I would also like to add that, in keeping with the spirit of the separation of powers, politicians should leave the interpretation of the judiciary's decisions to the judiciary. Politicians should not attempt to interpret judicial decisions, as has happened in the past.
The Administrative Court's recent ruling contains several important decisions. First, the Court decided that, in the future, administrative jurisdictions will always be competent to hear disputes in connection with the right of first refusal. Second, it decided that, in the future, the College of Aldermen could once again decide on its own to assert the municipality's right of first refusal, provided that the municipal council indicates its approval on the notarial deed (before it is signed) within no more than three months of the College of Aldermen's decision. In its decision, the College of Aldermen must clearly state the purpose for which it wishes to purchase the property in question. Thereafter, that purpose cannot be changed. If the decision states, for example, that the land in question will be used for the construction of housing, the municipality cannot decide afterwards to build a school on the land. Third, the municipal council no longer needs to take a formal decision to waive its right of first refusal, which eliminates a procedure that is long and problematic owing to the time limits involved. Fourth, municipalities are no longer required to file a concrete project. On the other hand, they must specify what the land they wish to purchase will be used for. In the Administrative Court's ruling, the possible uses are clearly stated: (i) the construction of housing units under the "Pacte logement" law; (ii) road and public infrastructure works; and (iii) construction of public facilities". Municipalities must choose one of these three uses from the outset. However, within the framework of these uses, municipalities have total leeway, which will improve the situation considerably.
So, we are satisfied with this ruling, which gives us back the power to exercise the right of first refusal. That said, the ruling, which concerns the specific case of the municipality of Sanem, does not solve all the issues in connection with this topic. One of them is that an increasing number of pre-purchase agreements contain a clause providing that a substantial down payment be paid at the time of signing. Municipalities cannot do this; otherwise they would be violating the laws on municipal finances. It is crucial that these issues be clarified in the new "Pacte logement" law, failing which developers will continue to contrive ways of getting around municipalities' right of first refusal.
Generally speaking, we welcome the important step that this Administrative Court ruling represents, and I thank all the members of the municipal council for their support in this sensitive matter.
MAYOR LYDIE POLFER
Indeed, we welcome this case-law ruling, which will make things easier for us. Nevertheless, it is my hope that the lawmakers will go even further and provide municipal authorities with greater flexibility in defining the development project for the land in question, and in setting the time limit within which the project must be implemented.
It is conceivable, for example, that a municipality purchases a piece of land in an industrial zone with the intention of implementing a specific project, but that the General Development Plan (Plan d'aménagement général – PAG) is subsequently amended, which would mean that the initial reason for purchasing the land could no longer be fulfilled. As such, providing municipalities with greater flexibility would be a welcome move.