SPOT project team celebrated 20th Anniversary of ERDN

Katarzyna Leśniewska-Napierała and Tomasz Napierała represented SPOT project team during celebratory seminar for the 20th Anniversary of ERDN (European Rural Development Network). The event was held on September 14-16, 2022 in Mielno (Poland), and organized in cooperation with the Koszalin University of Technology. The title of the seminar was ‘Cooperation and experience of science in support of policies for rural development’.

The celebratory seminar for the 20th Anniversary of ERDN was the outstanding opportunity to meet all members of the network. The ERDN was established in 2002 as a forum for exchange of ideas and research experience and a platform for cooperation between Polish and European scientific and research institutions in the field of rural development and agriculture, especially in the perspective of the European Union enlargement and its future policies.

Katarzyna Leśniewska-Napierała and Tomasz Napierała contributed to the seminar for the 20th Anniversary of ERDN by the presentation entitled ‘Going back/forward to rurality: Case of tourism in Bełchatów industrial district’. The goal of the presentation was to discuss rurality as the neglected context of the wider perspective of co-evolution of tourism and core industries of the Bełchatów industrial district: lignite mining and energy production. The Bełchatów industrial district in Central Poland is the case study area. It consists of the city of Bełchatów and thirteen rural communes. The case study area was delimited based on industrial transformation of rural landscape resulting from lignite mining and energy production and fitted into administrative divisions at local level.

The roots of tourism development in Bełchatów industrial district date back to the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. At that time, it did not stand out against the economic background of the region, remaining a typically agricultural area with limited expansion of holiday homes along newly built railway line connecting Warsaw and Vienna. The first triggering event for the development relied on the discovery of rich and accessible lignite deposits. Since the mid-1970s, the case study area has undergone rapid and permanent structural changes with unprecedented development of opencast mining and energy production. That included stimulation of leisure and tourism through organizational and financial support targeting employees and their families, as well as direct investment in facilities for holidaymakers (social tourism).

Economic transition is considered as a second triggering event shaping co-evolution of tourism and industrial sectors of Bełchatów industrial district. In 1990, lignite mining and energy production were marketed in Poland. Bełchatów Mining and Energy Complex was included in assets of the company currently called PGE Polska Grupa Energetyczna (Eng. Polish Energy Group). Development of a large enterprise in Bełchatów industrial district stimulated significant increase of both demand and supply of business tourism. In 2014 the exhibition of ‘PGE Giganty Mocy’ (PGE Giants of Power) was opened. This event triggered the development of educational tourism in the case study area.

The future of Bełchatów industrial district is shaped by the European Green Deal and implementation of Just Transition Mechanism. To make the European Union (EU) climate-neutral by 2050, the lignite mine in Bełchatów industrial district will be closed, and the way the power plant works will be transformed. It is proposed that tourism, in particular leisure tourism, might become one of new developmental functions of Bełchatów industrial district. It should be emphasized that all mentioned processes of both mass tourism and industry development were triggered by political decisions at regional, national and European level.

The perspective of the local stakeholders is substantially different from supralocal once. Local actions groups operating in the case study area identified folklore, history, local traditions, culture, and material heritage, as well as – interestingly – contemporary economic and social challenges, as the most significant elements of local identity. Sustainable tourism development is directly indicated as a way to increase social participation and social capital. Thus, promoting agritourism and ecotourism combined with organic farming and ecological food processing is requested.

In both spatial and development strategies in the case study area it is clearly stated that the focus on quality of local spatial policy and spatial order will affect the increase of supralocal interest in developing areas for second homes construction. It should be indicated as a great chance for Bełchatów industrial district to keep relations between the inevitable outflowing population and its recent places of permanent stay. The path from industrial dwelling-places towards rural second homes should be considered as the bottom-up alternative for top-down decisions. This is the path going back/forward to rurality.

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