Parliament approves next steps in plan to save Flanders' open space from construction

The Flemish Parliament has given the green light to a number of important steps in the realisation of the “construction shift”, the Flemish government’s plan to preserve open space from construction. The majority voted in favour on Wednesday, with Groen, Vooruit and PVDA voting against and Vlaams Belang abstaining.

The plan, previously also known as the “betonstop”, or concrete ban, aims to ensure that from 2040, no more open space is built on in the region. New buildings will only be allowed in locations where there are already buildings. 

Discussions on the issue have been going on for some time. In February 2022, the Flemish government decided that landowners whose land can no longer be built on would receive compensation. A fund of 100 million euros a year will be created for this purpose.

A “shield” will be placed over undeveloped residential areas, covering 12,000 hectares. Only the municipal council will be able to lift it, after public consultation. These steps have now been approved.

Protection against flooding

Environment minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA) says the regulation on residential expansion represents “the biggest decretal protection of open space ever”. “We have seen in Italy and Wallonia what a lot of paved surface and a lack of open space leads to,” she said. “This is an important legislative instrument to further protect Flanders against flooding and drought.”

Vooruit MP Bruno Tobback criticised the decision, saying the compensation scheme would mainly benefit speculators and would hold back “any forward-looking policy”. “You are anchoring Flanders in the past with this,” he said. “Two per cent of Flemings will receive excessive compensation and the other 98 per cent will have to cough up billions,” said Groen group leader Mieke Schauvliege. ​ 

"There is an urgent need for more space for water, nature and forests and local food production"

Between 2013 and 2019, more than 5 hectares of open space in Flanders disappeared every day. A report by the Flemish Institute for Technological Research and HOGENT university of applied sciences has calculated that without the construction shift, Flanders would lose more than 40,000 hectares of open space, mainly nature and agricultural land.

Erik Grietens, policy expert on public space at environment association Bond Beter Leefmilieu, said: “By greatly increasing the cost of rezoning from hard to soft uses, governments will take even fewer initiatives to get our spatial planning right. Yet there is an urgent need for more space for water, nature and forests and local food production.”



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