Flemish government not meeting demands of environmental permit applications

The Flemish government has been criticised for not meeting the demands of environmental permit applications. New figures show that only one out of five requests for advice from municipal and provincial governments receives attention. Flemish MP Bruno Tobback of socialists Vooruit put forward the findings on Tuesday.

Local authorities that ask for advice about permits rarely receive an answer. “The department no longer has the resources to carry out crucial tasks properly,” says Tobback. "The Flemish government simply does not take its advisory role seriously. PFAS teaches us that we will undoubtedly pay the price for this in the future."

Handling permit cases

The government provides advice when granting environmental permits, formerly known as environmental and urban planning permits. According to Tobback, this advice is essential because the cases often involve technically and legally complex issues. The Flemish Environment ministry often provides such advice.

In 2018, 65 per cent of cases were handled, but according to Tobback, budget cuts by the Flemish government have left the department with insufficient resources, causing cases taken to drop significantly. He said this situation was forcing local authorities to turn to expensive consulting firms and experts.

"The department no longer has the resources to carry out crucial tasks properly"

Tobback called on Environment minister Zuhal Demir of Flemish nationalists N-VA to intervene and invest in advisory services. "Only in this way can we avoid issuing lax permits due to a lack of advice, expertise and communication," he said. "If the Flemish government falls short in this regard, we will inevitably be presented with the bill afterwards, in the form of endless appeals or, worse yet, invoices for cleaning up pollution, as the PFAS saga has already demonstrated."

Demir promised improvement and said 10 staff members would be added to the Environment ministry and provincial committees to provide advice. The procedures should then be carried out in a more targeted and efficient manner. Cases will be selected based on a series of criteria, such as the impact of a permit and its associated risk.

#FlandersNewsService | Vooruit's Bruno Tobback © BELGA PHOTO HADRIEN DURE

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