A neglected neighbourhood awaiting much-needed investment

The area around the derelict site under the Vilvoorde viaduct used to be a hive of industrial activity. There were factories and businesses employing thousands of people. Very little of this remains today. For over 20 years the site has been deserted and neglected.

A spot of history

Once upon a time, things were very different in this area between the centres of Machelen, Diegem and Vilvoorde. After the Second World War, the area grew into a flourishing industrial region with intense economic activity. It was perfectly located at the heart of Belgium, with immediate access to the Brussels-Willebroek Canal, at the crossroads of several major roads and railway lines, and literally only a few minutes from Brussels Airport. It was home to companies such as Franki, Bonna Sabla and Ça Va Seul, but one by one, these companies left owing to economic changes.

Decades of decay

In 1997, disaster struck the region. From one day to the next, Renault Vilvoorde shut down its plant, leaving 3.000 employees unemployed. The social consequences were catastrophic. A few years later, in 2001, after the September 11 attacks, a new social drama unfolded. Our national airline SABENA went bankrupt, causing yet more unemployment in the region. And a few years after that, DHL, another major employer in the area, decided to move most of the company to Leipzig in 2004, a blow that left many jobless in this once important economic hub.

Strategic Action Plan of the Flemish Government

The Flemish Government reacted immediately by initiating a vast economic investment plan, known as START (Strategic Action Plan for Reconversion and Employment), in the airport zone. It was comparable to SALK, a strategic action plan initiated in Limburg after the closure of Ford Genk, aimed at giving the region a future again. The initiative focused on creating new activities and new jobs, improving mobility, expanding the airport and enhancing the living environment.

Within the framework of the START programme, the Flemish Government defined the Vilvoorde – Machelen reconversion zone as being of strategic importance. The area covers 258 ha in total (see map), with the 11 ha allocated to Uplace located in this area. This means that Uplace only covers 4.3 % of the entire reconversion area. The reconversion area also includes the new Vilvoorde hospital, a large residential area, SME zones, industrial sites, and additional retail space (at the old Renault site).  
  
reconversiezone2Unfortunately, more than 15 years after the closure of Renault, and more than 10 years after the beginning of the START programme, not much has been done in the reconversion zone. Unemployment is very high: in February 2015, the Vilvoorde-Machelen area had 18.172 unemployed residents. Uplace can and will fulfil the role of pioneer and offer the opportunities this region so desperately needs. To find out more about the history of Machelen and the surrounding area, go to www.machala.be.