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Discount vouchers for rapid antigen tests

QUESTION POSED BY TOM KRIEPS

In December 2021, I learned that the City of Luxembourg was distributing around 1,400 discount vouchers for COVID tests per day. I noticed that the reception desk at Luxembourg City Hall was in fact constantly busy. There were so many people coming and going that I started to suspect that some of them were not using the vouchers to go to a café or restaurant in Luxembourg City, but instead were using them for other purposes – namely, to sell them. If a test costs only €5 in a pharmacy with a voucher instead of €15 or €20 without one, some people could be tempted to sell these vouchers. How many vouchers in total were distributed under this initiative? Don't you think this initiative reinforced the convictions of people who are critical of vaccines, at the City of Luxembourg's expense?

RESPONSE PROVIDED BY THE MAYOR, LYDIE POLFER

Councillor Krieps, I think your view of the situation is too cynical. Why would someone sell vouchers when anyone could get them for free from Luxembourg City Hall? During this initiative, which ran from 18 May to 31 December 2021, 140,204 vouchers were collected from Luxembourg City Hall. Thus, we helped those who took advantage of the initiative to find out whether they were positive, and they could then take steps to protect themselves and their families and friends. I'd also like to remind you that from 1 November to 31 December, the City managed a vaccination centre in Grand-Rue, where between 170 and 180 people a day were vaccinated. Throughout this pandemic, the City has done all it can to provide the public with options to afford them and their families and friends the best possible protection. Anyone who wanted to take advantage of these opportunities was free to do so, regardless of whether they are Luxembourgish or not. The tests enabled them to enter not only cafés and restaurants but also stores, and many people needed a negative test for their employers.

Statistical data on schools in Luxembourg City

QUESTION POSED BY CHRISTA BRÖMMEL

In an article published in "Luxemburger Wort" on 19 June 2021, Alderwoman Mart again addressed several challenges in connection with the organisation of Luxembourg City's schools. In particular, she discussed parents who enrol their children in schools outside the catchment area where their residence is located, increased enrolment in private schools to the detriment of public schools, and lack of awareness about the virtues of Luxembourg's public education system. However, the article did not provide any statistics regarding these phenomena, nor did it discuss strategies for addressing them. In a recent report by RTL on the organisation of elementary education and the childcare centres in Kirchberg, the planning of elementary education and childcare was again the focus of discussion.

How has the total number of children in Luxembourg City subject to compulsory education changed over the last four years?

How has the number of children enrolled in public schools outside their catchment area changed over the last four years (including 2021–2022)? What catchment areas do the pupils come from, and in what schools and in what cycles are they enrolled? Why are pupils enrolled in schools outside their catchment area? Are they enrolled with their grandparents' address, or that of another family member? Are they enrolled in a childcare centre near the destination school? Are these children who come from other municipalities?

Does the college of aldermen intend to stop parents from enrolling their children in schools outside the catchment area where their residence is located? If so, by what means?

How has private school enrolment changed over the last four years (including 2021–2022)? Do you have any information that would provide insight into the phenomenon of pupils leaving public schools for private schools? What conclusions do you draw from this?

If the college of aldermen does not currently know or have all this data, does it intend to gather it in the future?

Does the college of aldermen believe that private schools attract too many students, and if so, what does the college of aldermen intend to do in this regard?

Do you feel that the City is doing enough to promote the public school system among parents? When will an information campaign be launched to inform parents of the advantages of the public school system?

Can the college of aldermen provide any information on the number of applications that have been submitted to the City to open private schools and private childcare centres over the last four years? What is the college of aldermen doing to balance the locations of these entities across Luxembourg City?

 

RESPONSE PROVIDED BY ALDERWOMAN COLETTE MART

I will focus on the statistics, given that I discussed our overall policy on public schools and private or international schools in detail as part of the budget discussions. The city currently has 12,543 children and adolescents subject to compulsory education (i.e. up to the age of 16): 3,966 in secondary education and 8,577 in elementary education. The City's Service Enseignement (Education Department) is tasked with overseeing the compulsory education for all these children, including those in secondary education. The number of children changes every day because there is a constant turnover of inhabitants in the city. It is therefore hard to determine in detail how the numbers have changed in the past few years. As for the children who attend the City of Luxembourg's schools, the corresponding numbers can be found in the brochures on the organisation of the school system.

Regarding children who are enrolled in a school that is outside the catchment area where their residence is located: According to our regulations, this is permitted if the children are enrolled in a private childcare centre, if they are cared for by a nanny in another district, or if they are enrolled in the district where a relative – such as their grandmother or aunt – lives. Out of the 330 children who are currently in this situation, 185 attend a private childcare centre, 26 are cared for by a nanny, and the rest live with their grandmothers. The proportion of such children fell slightly in the last few years: from 7.8% in 2018 to 6.97% now. The schools that are most affected are those in Belair (Diderich), Bonneweg (Verger), Belair (Kayser), Rollingergrund and Clausen. These figures also include 110 children whose parents are travelling vendors workers living in other municipalities.

The reasons for this phenomenon are well known. If parents do not want their children to attend their district school – whether or not for valid reasons – the relevant City regulations stipulate different options. This is a sensitive issue because if we enforce the regulations strictly and prevent all parents from enrolling their children in schools outside their catchment area, we risk having more children leave the school system for private schools.

Some 100 children have left the City's school system during the current school year. Many of these children attend a public international school. Only a few children leave for private schools.

For the last few years, the percentage of children attending public schools has been rising. It now stands at 52.61%, up from 49% in 2018.

Fewer than 30% of the children subject to compulsory education are Luxembourg nationals; when you exclude children with dual citizenship, this figure falls to 18.54%.

Since 2017, 46 private crèches have applied to the City for a permit to set up in the capital. For each application, the City analyses the existing institutions in the districts in question and the traffic situation.

The City does not have a strategy for countering the fact that a portion of children do not attend our public schools: we have always pursued and will continue to pursue a liberal, tolerant policy with regard to private and international schools. As 70% of all school-age children are non-Luxembourgish, it would be unwise to attempt to force all children to attend our public schools since our trilingual system would deprive many of them of opportunities. Not all children who arrive in Luxembourg at the age of 10 or 11 can easily adapt to our trilingual system. However, we do promote our public schools and showcase their virtues, most notably on the City of Luxembourg website.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the City of Luxembourg Bus Department and LuxTram

QUESTION BY GUY FOETZ

We are seeing that the Omicron variant is spreading fast, particularly in schools. There is a risk that this may have repercussions on public transport. We need to ensure that the buses and trams continue operating for their thousands of users. What is the current situation with the City of Luxembourg's Service Autobus (Bus Department) and LuxTram – in which the City is a shareholder – in terms of available staff? Is there a risk that some lines may stop running all their scheduled trips or be suspended entirely? What measures are the City and LuxTram taking in this regard?

RESPONSE PROVIDED BY ALDERMAN PATRICK GOLDSCHMIDT

With regard to the Service Autobus, the number of staff taking sick leave is rising, but we are still able to operate all routes. If we got to a point where this were no longer possible, trained bus drivers working in administrative positions could pick up the slack. According to my information, the subcontractors – who operate around one-third of the lines – and LuxTram can also continue operating all the routes.

False declarations of residence

QUESTION POSED BY CLAUDINE KONSBRUCK

Apparently it happens regularly that dishonest people register at an address in Luxembourg City without actually living there, and without even notifying the owners or tenants of the property in question. That means that these people are improperly registering at an address in the city so they can enjoy a variety of benefits, most notably social security benefits.

What are the criteria for registering with the civil register at a given address? What documents need to be submitted upon registration? Are the City authorities aware of these illegal practises, and how do they plan to put a stop to them? What means do property owners have at their disposal to find out who is registered at their address?

On the website myguichet.lu, people can obtain a certificate of residence for themselves, but they have no way of knowing if other people are registered at the same address.

RESPONSE PROVIDED BY THE MAYOR, LYDIE POLFER

This is a very pertinent question and it led us to review our policy on this matter. We have become much more strict. The law stipulates that anyone who moves to a municipality must register with that municipality.

In 2020, 27,333 moves were recorded in Luxembourg City – this includes people moving either into or out of the city. In 742 cases (2.71%), the residency criteria were not satisfied. There were even cases where people registered at an address without ever having any connection to a person living there.

To put an end to these practises, we have established new criteria in consultation with the Public Prosecutor's Office.

Now, the owner of the relevant property must submit their electricity, water or landline telephone bill. The document in question must have been issued within the last three months. We had initially planned to require that property owners submit a deed of ownership, but we decided that this could be burdensome for people who purchased a property several decades ago, for example.

Tenants may also submit the bills I already mentioned – electricity, water or landline telephone – or better yet, the lease.

Persons living for free in another person's home must submit a certificate of accommodation issued by the owner or tenant. In this case too, the owner or tenant must submit the bills I already mentioned (electricity, water or landline telephone).

What can owners do if they find out that people have registered at their address without authorisation? If it is a rental accommodation, owners may check once a year to see who is in the accommodation. If it is the owner's residence, the owner may report the situation to the City or directly to the police. The police will then open an investigation. However, success is not guaranteed. In one case where I personally was a victim, nothing happened. What is most concerning about these practices is that dishonest people receive social benefits they are not entitled to. This is why we have taken the steps I have described.

Absurdly, there is no way for property owners to find out who is registered at their own homes. This is incomprehensible and annoying, but it is in keeping with the data protection legislation, which itself stems from a European directive. We could check to see if it is possible to amend the legislation.

Consequences of the flooding on 14 and 15 July 2021

QUESTION POSED BY GUY FOETZ

My question, which I asked on 6 August 2021, is about the severe flooding that occurred on 14 and 15 July and hit Luxembourg City hard.

Which municipal buildings were affected? In my written question, I gave the example of the Photothèque, but this was clarified in the meantime through a response by the College of Aldermen in a different context.

What land earmarked for future City buildings or special development plans (plans d'aménagement particuliers – PAP) – whether they have already been approved or still need to be approved – such as the "Polvermillen PAP", were flooded?

Does the City plan to reconsider the locations of its future buildings and PAPs (whether approved or not) based on the increased flood risk, and does it plan to impose specific conditions on the urban planning of the land in question, as applicable?

What fuel oil pollution occurred during the flooding? How does the City plan to prevent such pollution in the future?

Do the dimensions of the sewers and retention basins in those districts that were especially hard hit – such as Neudorf – still meet the needs of these areas, considering that torrential rains seem to be becoming a regular occurrence?

How has the increasingly extensive sealing of water runoff surfaces affected flooding? Does the City plan to change its policies in this regard?

RESPONSE PROVIDED BY THE MAYOR, LYDIE POLFER

As you yourself rightly said, the flooding did not damage the Photothèque. The Cinémathèque was also spared. In all, 35 City of Luxembourg buildings were affected, including 30 residential buildings – mainly in Stadtgrund, Pfaffenthal and Clausen – and 5 administrative buildings including, among others, the Service Circulation (Traffic Department) building, the building used by the Mouvement Écologique, and the school in Rue Vauban). The problem we are facing right now is finding companies that are capable of doing the repair work.

The City's Service Urbanisme (Urban Planning Department) is not responsible for designating the high-risk areas – this job falls to the Water Management Agency (Administration de la gestion de l'eau). There are three zones that are classified according to probability of flooding: "HQ10", "HQ100" and "HQ extreme". Before the City can approve a PAP, it must get authorisation from the Minister for the Environment. The zone where the "Polvermillen PAP" is located was only slightly affected on 14 and 15 July. Because Luxembourg City represents only a small portion of the country and the rivers that flow from outside the city cross the city, the only way to implement consistent countermeasures is to work with the Water Management Agency.

RESPONSE PROVIDED BY ALDERWOMAN SIMONE BEISSEL

Indeed, the main responsibility lies with the Water Management Agency. Based on the Law of 19 December 2008 on water (loi du 19 décembre 2008 relative à l'eau), which itself was based on European directives and amended in 2018, an initial flood risk management plan was drawn up in 2015 and revised in 2018. The Water Management Agency is currently reassessing this flood risk management plan in light of the flooding that occurred in June and July 2021, in collaboration with the City's Service Canalisation (Sewer Department) and the Ministry of the Environment (Ministère de l'Environnement). In accordance with this plan, our department continually performs analyses in order to improve the situation. In addition, there is a handbook on rainwater that provides works owners with information on the probability of flooding in each location.

As for the matter of fuel oil pollution, during the July 2021 flooding, an incident occurred in the area near Place d'Argent, where fuel oil leaked from a tank installed in a private building. In that case too, the Water Management Agency is responsible. Many buildings in Luxembourg City are connected to the mains gas system, but others still have fuel oil tanks. Generally speaking, we need to make sure that the fuel oil tanks are maintained and that the relevant rules are followed.

The sewer system developed over time as the city grew. There are some critical points in the city's sewer system due to the topography, which as we all know features hills and valleys. This applies in particular to Neudorf and Rollingergrund, the districts where the main drains are located. These critical points are monitored constantly, and hydrodynamic simulations and studies are conducted to try to improve the situation. There is a national multiyear plan dating back to 2000 that sets criteria based on which the Neudorf drain, among others, was installed.

Mayor Polfer has already mentioned the three zones established by the Water Management Agency. To guarantee maximum protection for the relevant areas, the City has adopted the system of urban residential areas with stricter requirements (zones d'habitation urbaines à exigence renforcée). With regard to, for example, the Drosbach district, we are not planning to increase the diameter of the sewer in the upper part – in that case, the residential areas located downstream would be at risk of flooding – but rather to build retention basins and storm basins. There are currently 42 such basins in Luxembourg City, and there are plans to build others.

Of course, ground sealing influences the effect of rains of this intensity. However, this influence varies based on the type of precipitation: in June, we had a typical summer rain (short but very intense, so much so that the sewers overflowed), while on 14 and 15 July, it rained very intensely for a very long time, and the permeable surfaces could not absorb the additional water because it rained frequently that summer. In such situations, it makes no difference whether a surface is impermeable or not. However, we will ensure that there is no excessive ground sealing and that water can run off as much as possible.

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