Here are a number of impressions of the Uplace site and the surrounding area. Degraded, neglected, grim and grey are words that spring to mind when driving around here.
How did this happen? 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.
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.
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.
Uplace, a brownfield beauty contest
The original idea was to use existing green spaces to generate new economic activity, but the authorities soon realised that there were many polluted and neglected industrial sites begging for new activities. Investment in the reconversion of these brownfields, such as the land for Uplace, therefore became a priority. This idea was the basis for the famous Brownfield Decree of 2007, which provides an official framework whereby private entrepreneurs can tackle the tough task of developing brownfields with the help of the government as a facilitator.
In 2007, the Flemish Government organised a beauty contest for the Vilvoorde-Machelen reconversion zone. It went in search of a project with the power to reconvert the entire industrial zone. Uplace won the contest for being the best and most innovative project. The Flemish Government and Uplace then started negotiations to establish a brownfield agreement, which was concluded in 2009. The agreement has since been confirmed three times, the last time in February 2015. This means that all of the Flemish political parties (except for the Green Party and Vlaams Belang) support the project.
The Vilvoorde-Machelen reconversion zone is of strategic importance for Flanders
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).
Unfortunately, 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. Read all about it in our Jobs, jobs and more jobs section.
To find out more about the history of Machelen and the surrounding area, go to www.machala.be