The Flemish Parliament has approved significant measures in the implementation of the "construction shift," the Flemish government's initiative to preserve open space

by limiting construction. The majority voted in favor of the plan on Wednesday, with Groen, Vooruit, and PVDA voting against it, and Vlaams Belang abstaining.

Also known as the "betonstop" or concrete ban, the plan aims to ensure that no more open space in the region is developed after 2040. New buildings will only be permitted in areas already designated for construction.

Discussions on this issue have been ongoing for some time. In February 2022, the Flemish government decided that landowners whose land could no longer be developed would receive compensation. A fund of 100 million euros per year will be established for this purpose.

An additional measure includes placing a "shield" over undeveloped residential areas, covering 12,000 hectares. The municipal council will have the authority to remove the shield only after conducting public consultations. These steps have now been endorsed.

Protection against flooding

Environment Minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA) describes the residential expansion regulation as "the most significant legislative protection of open space to date." She emphasizes the importance of safeguarding Flanders against flooding and drought by avoiding excessive paved surfaces and preserving open space. Demir points to examples in Italy and Wallonia where the lack of open space has led to adverse consequences.

However, Vooruit MP Bruno Tobback criticizes the decision, suggesting that the compensation scheme primarily benefits speculators and hinders forward-looking policies. Groen group leader Mieke Schauvliege expresses concerns about the disproportionate compensation received by a small percentage of Flemish residents while placing a financial burden on the majority.

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

Between 2013 and 2019, Flanders lost over 5 hectares of open space every day. A report by the Flemish Institute for Technological Research and HOGENT University of Applied Sciences estimates that without the construction shift, Flanders would lose over 40,000 hectares of open space, primarily consisting of nature reserves and agricultural land.

Erik Grietens, policy expert on public space at the environment association Bond Beter Leefmilieu, emphasizes the necessity for additional space dedicated to water management, nature preservation, forests, and local food production. Grietens raises concerns about the potential consequences of increasing the costs associated with rezoning from hard to soft uses, as it might discourage government initiatives to address spatial planning issues effectively. Photo by Paul Van Welden, Wikimedia commons.