Flanders demands long-term vision for future of church buildings
All Flemish municipalities will have to present a long-term vision for their parish churches in the future. Many municipalities already have such a 'policy plan for churches', but this is not an obligation. Flemish minister of Home Affairs Bart Somers and minister of Immovable Heritage Matthias Diependaele want to change this. Municipalities will be obliged to have a plan for churches on their territory when drawing up the following multi-year plans (2026-2031).
Flanders has almost 1.800 Roman Catholic parish churches, but due to growing secularisation, these churches are being used less and less for their intended religious function. The Flemish government has been thinking about the possible reallocation or secondary use of these buildings for some time now and has developed several instruments for this purpose.
Subsidy systems were put in place, and municipalities were actively encouraged to submit a church policy plan, a kind of long-term vision for the future of the churches on their territory. Such a plan is a condition for receiving an increased heritage or restoration premium.
Figures from 2021 show that 236 of the 300 Flemish municipalities, i.e. four out of five, have such a plan. Yet it is not an obligation, and the Flemish government wants to change that. According to the government, it is "a suitable framework for conducting a structural debate on the future of the parish churches on the territory of the municipality". Specifically, municipalities will be obliged to submit a signed "churches policy plan" in the next legislature.
"The Flemish government is aware of the historical value and size of the patrimony of - mainly Roman Catholic - parish churches and of the questions that arise around the future of these buildings. That is why I am providing additional financial support to enable the reallocation and secondary use of non-protected churches", explained minister of Home Affairs Bart Somers.
There will also be more opportunities for churches protected as monuments, Minister Diependaele added. "We are making it possible for the first time to give protected churches support for new uses as well. For example, with small interventions such as a kitchen or plumbing, numerous additional activities are possible in existing churches."
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