The Uplace shopping and leisure complex planned for the commune of Machelen on the outskirts of Brussels has still to see the light of day, and given the opposition from local authorities to business, it now seems unlikely to.
That was the situation until this week, when the municipal authority of Machelen and architect Alexander D’Hooghe unveiled plans for a proposal to rethink the site in ways that will help to counter all objections. D’Hooghe is the man brought in by the Flemish government to cut the Gordian knot of the Oosterweel connection on the Antwerp ring, after the project had languished for 20 years without taking a single step forward. That project is now accepted by the Flemish authorities as well as the civil groups set up to oppose it.
Uplace, on a former industrial site close to the Vilvoorde viaduct, would have included shops, offices, leisure facilities and gardens, with roughly 25% of each category. Those include bars and restaurants, a hotel, fitness centre and playgrounds.
Opponents reached from neighbouring Vilvoorde to Leuven, towns and cities that complained the complex would take shoppers away from town centres. Environmentalist groups objected to the surge in traffic the complex would bring, while business groups like Unizo stood up for local commerces instead of the High Street chains which tend to populate such centres.
The plans became mired in legal challenges to the permits granted by the local and regional authorities. Initial planning permission under a special brownfield covenant for reclaimed industrial land was granted in 2011. In October last year the Flemish council for permit disputes overruled the project’s urban development permit, a decision which Greenpeace and others described as the coup de grace for the project.
Then along came Alexander D’Hooghe, fresh from his success in bringing former enemies together over a revised Oosterweel project, now offering with his bureau ORG PerMod a possible solution for a revised plan for Uplace.
The site will now become, he said, “a work-shopping neighbourhood” with an emphasis on ecology and sustainability. “An open area where production and consumption go together,” in his own words. The newly-renamed Broeksite would “offer a response to the urban challenges the canal zone is facing”.
In concrete terms, that would include 10 to 15 thematic houses, inspired by the guild houses of the Middle Ages. Those might include a house for nutrition, music, enterprise etc. One will certainly be a house for circularity – the principle of using materials again to reduce consumption.
One-quarter of the site would consist of parkland, roughly the same as Uplace promised. It would also create some 3,000 jobs, where Uplace was promising 5,267 construction jobs and 3,249 FTEs (full-time equivalent jobs) when in operation.
The Uplace company said it would study the plans with interest, and pointed out it had already invested 90 million euros in cleaning up the site under the brownfield covenant.
“This is now a completely different project for the site,” company CEO Jan Van Lancker said in De Tijd (paywall). “Originally, 80% of the project was commercial. In the plans for the new Broeksite from Mr. D’Hooghe only 28% is left over. We first have to study the plan closely to see if it’s possible to carry out a full economic feasibility study. Only then will be be sure the investment is worth it.”