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Ecolo opposes Neo shopping centre at Heysel

15:37 19/10/2021

The Neo shopping centre, long planned for Heysel, could be in trouble as green party Ecolo has come out against it in the Brussels regional government. Ecolo is part of the government’s ruling coalition, together with several other parties, including socialists PS – a staunch supporter of the Neo project.

The €335 million Neo complex – funded by Brussels-City and the Capital Region – is meant to include a shopping centre, office space, housing, restaurants and a sport park covering 68 hectares of the Heysel plateau.

A new football stadium was also considered as part of the project, but it would have been located on the part of the plateau that is in Flanders, and the region denied a building permit. A planned convention centre and hotel was also scrapped, last year.

The Kinepolis cinema, Mini-Europe and the historical buildings that make up Brussels Expo would all stay and become part of Neo. Other structures at Bruparck have been demolished to make way for the project.

‘We are not the culprit’

Neo has been under discussion for more than 10 years, with plans drawn up, permits granted and rejected, battles fought by residents and regions regarding traffic congestion and arguments by retailers that another shopping centre would drive them out of business.

And now Ecolo wants to see the first part of the development, known as Neo 1, altered, with the 72,000 square-metre shopping complex scrapped. “Everyone wants to put the blame on us,” Ecolo MP Isabelle Pauthier told Bruzz. “But we are not the culprit; the culprit is the project itself, which is outdated and obsolete. A mega-shopping centre that includes 3,700 parking spots – and at a time when we are doing everything we can to reduce CO2 emissions.”

Pauthier claims that no study has been produced to prove that a shopping centre is needed or viable on the site. “That’s why there’s never been a consensus. It’s purely a development project. And since the plans were conceived, much has changed: the rise of e-commerce, the decrease of purchasing power, the opening of Docks shopping centre, which is 90% full of the same shops you can find in the city centre.”

Architectural rendering of the Neo shopping centreHow much of the original design for Neo is realised remains to be seen  ©Neo SCRL

An agreement on Neo was not part of the government accord that led to the forming of the regional government in 2019, which means it’s still open to debate. The Brussels-City council, however, does not have the luxury of a debate as the project was part of its accord when it formed in 2018.

“We stick by the policy accord, although it’s no secret that we were not in favour of the project,” Soetkin Hoessens of the Ecolo-Groen alliance on the city council told Bruzz. “We do have to say, however, that with the disappearance of the convention centre, everything has been stalled.”

Pauthier emphasises that Ecolo is not against the Neo project in general but is specifically opposed to the shopping centre. “Something does need to happen at Heysel,” she says. “Housing could be established, preferably half of it social and affordable housing, as well as tourist attractions. That is the future of Heysel, not a shopping centre. Brussels is ultimately a small, and also a relatively poor city.”

Photo top courtesy Perspective.Brussels

 

Written by Lisa Bradshaw