Five ambitious building schemes in the heart of Brussels have been unveiled which aim to give a gigantic economic and ecological boost to residents and tourists in the city. The multi-million euro projects – which have already been given the go-ahead by the city’s planners – are due to be up and running over the next decade, and some of the building work has already started or is due to begin this year. The schemes in the European Quarter, Reyers/Meiser, Tour and Taxis, Josaphat and Heysel areas aim to bring green living space, affordable housing, jobs, restaurants, shops and other services, adding a massive amount of breathing space and clean air to inhale in an effort to boost the city.
The goal is for Brussels to become one of Europe’s top destination cities and one of the premier cities in the world in which to live, as well as giving much needed green spaces to a city often described as one of the most polluted spots in Europe.
The projects, which are to be funded by public and private investors, were recently announced by Perspective Brussels, initiator of Brussels’ regional development strategy, which will oversee the overall development of the areas earmarked for regeneration.
SAU-MSI, an operator working on behalf of the public interest, which co-operates with prospective and existing private and public partners involved in the project, have joined forces with Perspective Brussels on three of the five new schemes with the exception of the projects in the European Quarter and Heysel.
Christophe Soil, General Director of Perspective and Tom Sanders, Perspective’s Strategy Director, told The Brussels Times that the ambitious plan is to provide numerous green spaces, jobs, entertainment, restaurants and other services to every one of the city’s residents within easy walking distance from their homes. “We are aiming to make a difference and to send a positive message for Brussels,” Mr Soil said.
1. TOUR & TAXIS
Work has already started to revitalise the Tour and Taxis site along the canal in the Brussels/Molenbeek communes with half the programme already completed. The project exists to reflect and celebrate the site’s industrial heritage. The redevelopment of the Royal depot and sheds has already taken place along with the opening of the Leefmilieu Brussel Environment headquarters.
The total facelift of the land will provide much needed green spaces for residents living in one of the more deprived areas of the city. Around 40,000 square metres have been earmarked for affordable housing on the Tour and Taxis site. Next year will also see the opening of the new Flemish administration headquarters known as the Meander project.
There are also massive plans to create a Mediapark around the existing location of the public broadcasting companies – RTBF and VRT – in the Reyers/Meiser district of the city. The scheme – including a flagship building known as Media House – will also produce leafy public spaces on nine hectares of land, providing as many as 2,500 new homes, a state-of-the-art 55,000 square metre headquarters for the VRT and a brand new 38,000 square metre building to house the RTBF.
In addition to this, 30,000 square metres of media space will be built to accommodate and attract new businesses in the media industry. The area will be set to become a micro self-sufficient city, as shops, restaurants and other amenities have been earmarked for the site. The existing broadcasting buildings on the site are due to be demolished and staff will be housed in temporary premises while construction takes place. The work is due to begin in 2018, and it is thought the whole project will take more than 10 years to complete.
In another project, twenty-five hectares of former national railway land will be developed in the Josaphat area, in and around Boulevards Leopold III, Wahis and Avenue Gilisquet. Work is due to start this year on the land, which lies on either side of the existing rail tracks, and will provide around 1,600 new homes, nearly half of which will be public housing to create social diversity.
There will be four hectares of green space for many of the newly-housed residents to view from their windows, two new pre-schools, one kindergarten and a primary school, a sports hall, healthcare and leisure services. Planners say the development of this area will also mean that the provision of faster rail links to Brussels Airport and the European Quarter can be implemented.
Mr Soil said: “We were happy to buy this land as it just wasn’t used and such space can be problematic for the city. This will be a confident, pleasant neighbourhood for people to live in, and we will provide quality housing and again, lots of green spaces for people to enjoy.”
4. ATOMIUM AREA (NEO PROJECT)
Further north in the city, tourists often flock to the iconic Atomium and the park in and around Heysel. But developers were keen to make the area even more attractive to visitors and residents alike. More than 92 hectares of land has been acquired and work is due to begin in the next 12 months on the NEO Project.
The plans include an international conference centre and a huge sports and leisure park will be provided along with plenty of water features and attractive public spaces. There will be space for more than 200 shops, 30 restaurants, 590 new houses, a retirement home for around 90 residents, a state-of-the-art cinema complex, an international hotel and two brand new pre-schools. Mr Soil and Mr Sanders said they hope to attract big businesses to establish their headquarters in the area as transport links in and out of the city will be made even more efficient. “We would like it to be seen as the international city to be in,” said Mr Soil.
5. EUROPEAN QUARTER
The final project earmarked for regeneration is the European Quarter, which is mostly viewed as grey and austere, especially by those working in the Commission and Council in the heart of the district. An agreement has finally been reached between planners and The European Commission about the future of this area. This quarter is perhaps the only impression many international television viewers get of Brussels, which many regard as a shame as they say it reflects only a fraction of the city’s face. The quarter will become a diverse and attractive green area befitting an international neighbourhood.
The offices in the Leopold quarter will be redeveloped to allow the site once again to become residential, as office staff will be moved to Rue De La Loi. Workers will be able to step out at break times to enjoy the many parks in the European Quarter, which will also be provided. It has been described as a “cultural route for pedestrians” as the huge traffic problem blighting the area is set to be reduced with the introduction of some pedestrianised ways.
There are plans for the redesign of the Schuman roundabout, and in May this year there will be the opening of the House of European History, which is part of a wider scheme to strengthen cultural sites in the city. The popularity of the Parliamentarium, which opened in 2011, proved the need for Brussels to celebrate its status as the headquarters of the European Union.
“We want to give the green spaces back to the residents and workers, and give some symmetry and light to the area,” added Mr Soil.
Speaking after the launch of all five projects, Tom Sanders said: “We have the ambition for Brussels to become a leading city in the world for living and working.” Mr Soil added: “It is a mixed programme of projects, and we have come a long way to make this happen, but we are doing more than ever to make a difference and to send out a positive message for Brussels.”
By Kim Clayton