What is a Brownfield agreement and what is its purpose?

What is a Brownfield agreement and what is its purpose?

Prof Verbeke

During the past weeks, much ink has been spilled over the Brownfield agreement between Uplace, the Flemish Government, the community of Machelen and Ovam (Flemish public waste agency). There has been extensive speculations about the possibility of filing a compensation claim by Uplace. We therefore believed it was about time to go into further detail on this topic and pause about the “how’s and why’s” of a Brownfield agreement.

The purpose of a Brownfield agreement is to give an economic boost and revitalise a polluted and neglected industrial site. It is an agreement for joint effort between the government and a private entrepreneur willing to tackle the tough task of investing in contaminated soils. For both government and community this is the perfect solution for cleaning polluted land, creating employment and giving back oxygen to a region.

Since the start of the Brownfield Decree in 2007, the Flemish Government signed already 69 Brownfield agreements. The complete list and content of these agreements can be consulted here. (Dutch).

Explanation and comments by Professor Alain Laurent Verbeke

Professor Alain Verbeke of the Faculty of Law at the University of Leuven is specialised in contract law. He gives his opinion on the content of a Brownfield agreement and the details of the Brownfield agreement between Uplace and the Flemish Government

To learn more and to get a detailed overview of how the Brownfield agreement between Uplace and the Flemish Government came about, please scroll down.

A Brownfield agreement for the polluted soils of Uplace in Machelen

People living in the shadow of the flyover in Vilvoorde, are familiar with the history and consequences of the sad deterioration of the Northern periphery of Brussels. Once upon a time, things were very different in this area between Machelen, Diegem and Vilvoorde. After the Second World War, the area grew into a flourishing industrial region with intense economic activity. It was home to companies such as Franki, Bonna Sabla and Ça Va Seul, but one by one, these companies left due to the economic recession. In 1997, Renault Vilvoorde shut down its plant from one day to the next. In 2001, the national airlines SABENA went bankrupt and in 2004, DHL decided to move most of the company to Leipzig. This hit left many jobless in this once important economic hub.


Economic driver for the entire region

The Flemish Government took action by initiating a vast economic investment plan, known as START (Strategic Action Plan for Reconversion and Employment), in the airport zone. It is 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. 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. The entire community profits by the redevelopment of these Brownfields to social responsible or economic profitable sites. It results in extra jobs, gives oxygen to what once was a social neglected neighbourhood, raises social coherence and extra local revenue.

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 most innovative project. The Flemish Government and Uplace then started negotiations to establish a brownfield agreement. By doing so, the Flemish Government wishes to stimulate and facilitate the redevelopment of abandoned industrial sites (so called brownfields) through private investments of project developers.

In 2009, the first Brownfield agreement was signed by Uplace, the Flemish Government Peeters I (majority: Christian Democrats, Flemish Nationalists, Socialist and Liberal parties), the community Machelen and OVAM.

In 2010, after the elections, a new agreement was signed with the new Flemish Government Peeters II (majority: Christian Democrats, Flemish Nationalists and Socialist parties).

Where do we stand today?

The Brownfield agreement has been signed for the third time in February 2015 with the Flemish Government Bourgeois I (majority: Flemish Nationalist, Christian Democrats and Liberal parties), Uplace, the community Machelen and OVAM. The renewed agreement takes into account the comments of the Council of State concerning the way the agreement was composed.

On top of that, Uplace explicitly expresses to renounce itself from the past with the renewed agreement. This means that Uplace irrevocably and definitively waives any damage claim with respect to operations prior to the signing of the new agreement of February 13.

Thus the critique voiced concerning any possible damage claim for future activities is unjustified. The clause in the agreement referring to this section is exactly the same as those in all other Brownfield agreements. These are always up for consultation on this website. (Dutch)