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Not just souvenirs: Brussels develops plan to attract more diverse shops

09:24 24/02/2021

The City of Brussels has proposed a new special zoning plan at the city council meeting on Monday evening which would ensure more diversity in terms of trade, so that businesses in the city centre are not only aimed at attracting tourists.

At the moment, the city centre is mostly home to businesses focused on tourism, explains councillor Ans Persoons, responsible for urban planning in Brussels. As a result, she says, the inhabitants of the district have difficulty accessing the type of local shops which people in other areas of the city take for granted.

Persoons says that shops attracting tourists do not have to disappear completely, but there must be a greater mix with, for example, more convenience stores, housing or collective spaces made available in the city centre. The aim is to first roll out the plan in monofunctional neighbourhoods such as the Unesco-protected zone around the Grand Place, but also in the Northern Quarter and other districts.

In recent years, the city has seen a number of inhabitants of the Unesco zone leave the city centre. "There is a proliferation of souvenir shops," explains Persoons. "Traders decide for themselves who they cater for, and they are free to do so. A property can be for catering or retail. We would like to add a separate function, that of gift shop." Some smaller shops in the area have become a mix, with food providers and retail stores also selling souvenirs to capitalise on the huge influx of tourists the area experiences every year.

By registering those types of stores under a separate category, traders would then have to apply for a permit to change from regular business to a gift shop. "We are looking at ways of doing something about this, in order to get a more diverse mix," says Persoons.

The new zoning plan of the City of Brussels has yet to be approved by the region.

Written by Nick Amies