Mediapark PAD - some progress, but citizens remain wary

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.

When I last wrote on the subject of the Brussels Region’s 13 PADs (Plans d’Amenagement Directeurs) in July this year, I speculated on the effects of the pandemic … and in particular I focused on the plans for a “Mediapark” on the site where the national television channels, the VRT and the RTBF, are located. The Mediapark PAD included allowance for demolition of the building currently housing both channels, and subsequent construction of two separate buildings.

Following local-resident action, supported by various official interventions, exceptionally the Mediapark PAD was in June, 2021 revised, and is now being referred to as PAD Mediapark BIS. Three proposals to construct buildings in the urban forest (known as the Bois Georgin) located behind the current VRT/RTBF building have been abandoned, permitting preservation of half of the forest. The proposals for new housing have been reduced to accommodate 1,600 inhabitants, and the maximum height of these buildings reduced to a scale consistent with surrounding buildings already in place.

Then, to considerable local surprise, in October, the Minister-President of the Region (Rudi Vervoort) announced that measures taken to respect nature more widely in the Mediapark and Josaphat PADs would apply to all remaining 8 PADs undergoing revision.

Several other features of the Mediapark PAD continue to concern local residents. One is the proposal to redirect the tram line 25. Initial proposals involved bringing the tram across Place Meiser in some way or other, in order to run along Boulevard Reyers and then enter and run through the Mediapark park site, eventually to cross above the E11 motorway with a terminus at Roodebeek. In October, during a Parliament intervention, the Minister for Mobility announced that this proposal and definitive decisions about it would be put on hold until after demolition of existing buildings that house the VRT and RTBF.

Considering the effects of the COVID pandemic on the economy in Brussels, with teleworking, empty offices, and other adaptations businesses have been obliged to make as a result, local citizens consider that PAD BIS should immediately relaunch a call for an economic study of the office and media accommodation sector, to update plans created originally in 2010 and which are now obviously obsolete. Again, no further action with respect to the Mediapark PAD BIS should therefore be undertaken until such a study could be completed, not before May, 2022.

The timing of PAD development, revision, and ultimate implementation is not surprisingly a long and at times mysterious process. In the Brussels Region, development of a project, citizen consultation, then further development lead to a “first reading” in government session.

Further public consultation, and comments by the CRD (Conseil Regional de Development), yet more public consultation and “arbitrages,” are followed by a “second reading”. The Conseil d’Etat (a type of constitutional court) then pronounces its opinion, leading perhaps to adoption of the PAD, but which then has to undergo a “third reading” before it is finally adopted, published, and ready to be implemented.

Although the Mediapark PAD BIS clearly is far from implementation, other factors affecting its final form still need to be taken into account. Mediapark neighbours have recently been invited by the VRT to visit displays of their proposals for their new building, which is, fortunately, respectful of the natural environment on the site. However, the VRT will not be able to submit its “demande de permis d’urbanisme,” accompanied by a public inquiry, before February 2022.

Equally important is the timing for the proposed redirection of the Tram 25 – about which many questions from local residents are very likely to emerge. Effects of the pandemic on business, including teleworking and the resulting empty offices, have no doubt changed the market for the construction of new office accommodation. Finally, there is currently a scientific study underway concerning the protected species of garden dormice, of which many are present in the Bois Georgin. This study will not be completed before April 2022.

Lengthy procedures in urban planning are usual, and not surprising. The Mediapark PAD local committee continues to be vigilant, wary of undesirable proposals that may go through without sufficient consideration. The recent emergence of awareness of the need to respect biodiversity, the now undeniable effects of climate change, and the demographic consequences on Brussels of the pandemic, will no doubt prolong the current urban projects … but, so they should. In the immediate future, the next step for the Mediapark PAD, a second reading of Mediapark BIS, should certainly NOT take place before mid-2022 at the earliest.

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