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Brussels residents develop ambitious railway park plan

An aerial view of the Brussels Metro line 6 with stations Belgica (front C) and Simonis (top C) as a police helicopter flies over the city center of Brussels, Tuesday 26 June 2018. BELGA PHOTO THIERRY ROGE
06:31 12/04/2021

Three Brussels residents from Koekelberg and Molenbeek have come up with an ambitious plan to create a park that would connect the Simonis and Belgica stations – by building a green space canopy over the top of the existing metro lines.

The idea for Parck XL28 was developed by Lien Mostmans, Arno Vervaet and Koen Depaepe after discussions which started at the school gates. The young parents were aware of the city renewal contract (SVC) which was approved for the neighbourhoods last year and the opportunity this provided residents to contribute ideas to the major infrastructure projects the Brussels government will carry out there in the coming years. Plans for the widespread regeneration of the area are being accepted until June.

"I know the neighbourhood very well and even as a student in the 2000s, I already regretted having to walk through a fairly grubby stretch from Simonis to Belgica," says Lien Mostmans, one of the initiators. "There is a lot of parking, it is dark and uninviting. It’s a missed opportunity because the metro line is already there. You can build over it and link the two neighbourhoods together."

Together, the three residents have now drawn up plans for the park, which includes a swimming pool, on top of the metro tracks. "It has grown very organically and spontaneously,” says Mostmans. “The three of us drew up the project but there are about a dozen other parents at our school involved, as is the district committee of the Avenue de la Liberté - Vrijheidslaan in Koekelberg. We feel there is enthusiasm."

The intended park would be 2.3 hectares in size, contain a water feature and link up with a planned renovation of Place Simonis. "The higher you aim, the higher you land," Mostmans said. "We have made suggestions about what we think is missing in the neighbourhood and we hope to get other ideas from neighbours through our project." In their petition for the plans, the initiators already garnered 240 signatures.

"We see the urban renewal contract as providing momentum, otherwise it would be difficult to get projects on municipal borders off the ground," Mostmans said. In the participation phase for the SVC, the Parck XL28 team can present their plan to the planning committee and the appointed study agency. Brussels builder Beliris is also already aware of the project.  

The budget for the park may prove problematic though. According to the cabinet of Brussels minister-president Rudi Vervoort, the total budget for the SVC 'Rond Simonis' has been budgeted at €22 million. This means that all projects within this designated area, ranging from Belgica to Weststation and Karreveld in Molenbeek, will have to be financed from this pot. "A canopy over the railway far exceeds the financial limits of the ordinary SVC," said a spokesperson for the Vervoort cabinet. "It is not feasible within the SVC's fixed term."

Additionally, with an SVC, all works must start within five years of the approval of the contract. One year has already passed. A project like Parck XL28 must also go through a thorough analysis phase and have an environmental impact study carried out before any further progress can be made.

Despite what looks like a major setback, the Parck XL28 team are not giving up. "We made an estimate based on a similar project which was nine times larger in Holland. It cost €100 million,” said Mostmans. “If you divide that by nine, that's about €11 million. I think it is manageable, but we will have to get other partners as well. Maybe SNCB, Infrabel, Beliris."

Written by Nick Amies


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