Political structure of Belgium

Flanders is the northern federated entity of Belgium, with Brussels as its capital. Flanders is one of Belgium’s three regions– the other two regions are the Brussels Capital Region and the Walloon Region – and has its own government, parliament and administration.

As a result of various state reforms over the past 35 years, Belgium has been transformed into a federal state in which the regions are given more responsibilities. In addition to environmental affairs, the Flemish government is also responsible for other sectors, such as economy, employment, education and culture, agriculture, foreign trade, spatial planning, urban development, housing, public works, etc.

 

Redevelopment because space is scarce

The metropolitan axis Paris-Brussels-London represents about 80 million inhabitants and is still expanding. The Belgian Planning Agency pointed out that the population in Flanders will grow from 6 to 7 million people in 2050 and that also its composition will change. The current population density of Flanders is 472 inhabitants/km² (2013), showing a higher density along the industrial axes and harbours.

The forecasted population increase will increase the demand for resources and transport. Furthermore, 300,000 extra dwellings will be required over the next 15 years and no less than 650,000 by 2050. The increasing demand for housing capacity is one of the major challenges in this rather densely populated region, particularly as any additional strain on the environment and natural resources must be avoided.

All these circumstances increase the pressure on the available space. The built-up surface in Flanders already amounts to nearly 20 %. According to forecasts, if no action is taken, this area could expand to a third or even half of the available space by 2050. The current land take in Flanders has been estimated at a total of 7 ha/day (17.30 acres/day). About 5 ha/day (12.36 acres/day) is being transformed for residential purposes. As a result, the open space will come under even greater pressure. This strain on the available space represents an unprecedented challenge that must be addressed prudently.

A simulation made by Vito (Flemish Institute for Technological Research) for the period 2010 – 2050 shows the impact of urbanisation in Flanders. VITO’s dynamic land use model quantifies the impact of land use changes. This information is absolutely vital for the optimal use of the scarce space available in Flanders. The transition to a metropolis on a human scale also presupposes that functions such as housing, working, leisure, nature and mobility are optimally located in space, with due consideration for the stakeholders’ preconditions.

 

VITO’s dynamic land use model – evolution 2010-2050

 

Legal Framework*

The development of brownfields requires efficient collaboration between all parties involved: local authorities, administrations, neighbours, local action groups, project developers, remediation experts, financing agencies, investors, insurers and others. The key question is: can the site be remediated in an adequate and cost-efficient manner to guarantee a safe and economically sound reuse, with a clear allocation of all responsibilities and liabilities to all parties involved?

Also, brownfield (re)development entails more than the mere remediation of contaminated sites. Profound knowledge of clean-up methods does not necessarily result in a successful project.

 

In Flanders, the Brownfield Covenant Act was enacted on 22 March 2007 and offers developers the opportunity to sign a contract with the Flemish government and other private and public stakeholders containing mutual commitments in view of the realisation of a brownfield project. This contract must be the result of a process for gaining (public) support and requires the cooperation of all stakeholders involved. Once the contract has been concluded, a steering committee will monitor the redevelopment of the site.

 

To facilitate the entire process, the parties are supported by a brownfield covenant negotiator, an expert appointed by the Flemish government. The public sector is involved as from the early stages of the negotiations to discuss the proposed redevelopment plans. Public awareness is also an important issue. This is addressed by organising official hearings before the contract is signed. This multi-actor governance should be emphasised as it is a crucial element in the decision-making and implementation process of various issues.

 

There are also financial incentives. The following taxes do not apply to projects with a Brownfield Covenant.

Exempted from general transaction taxes. For real estate transactions (purchase, long-term lease…), a tax between 4 and 10% must be paid on the transaction sum.

Exempted from the obligation to deposit a financial security for the execution of soil remediation works. For transactions (purchase, long-term lease…) involving real estate with soil pollution, a financial security covering the cost of the soil remediation works must be deposited.

Exempted from tax on added value following a change in land status. If the status of a plot of land changes, added value exceeding 500,000 € is subject to a 30% tax.

Exempted from vacancy tax. To prevent vacant properties, a tax amounting to 75 up to 150% of the estimated income that would be generated by the real estate for its owner over a period of one year is imposed after the property has been vacant for a period of three years. This exemption is granted because the realisation of a brownfield project usually takes more than three years and to give owners a real chance to create a new destination for valuable buildings.

 

 

* This text is merely an introduction into the legal framework of a Brownfield Covenant and can never generate rights. We’ve also strongly simplified some legal terms to make sure the text can be understood by readers who are not familiar with Belgian federal and regional legislation.