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Permits approved for Broeklin, replacement for much-maligned Uplace

18:25 28/03/2021

The Flemish government has approved permits for Broeklin, a new sustainable manufacturing campus in Machelen, just over the Brussels ring road. The development project is a replacement for Uplace, the highly controversial shopping and leisure centre once planned for the site.

The site under the Vilvoorde viaduct was once in part home to the Renault manufacturing plant. It closed in the late 1990s, leaving a brownfield site. Developer Uplace had hoped to open a massive shopping site and leisure centre there, but it was fraught with opposition from the beginning.

Many surrounding cities, including Mechelen, Leuven and Vilvoorde, were convinced that such a large retail space would decimate businesses in their town centres as well as increase traffic on the already congested R0. The environmental permit for Uplace was challenged all the way to the Council of State, which rescinded it – twice.

The Uplace developer came up with another project and has spent two years in conversations with all parties. Now the Flemish government has approved permits for Broeklin, an altogether different kind of development.

The new campus will be home to small and medium-sized manufacturers and producers focused on the circular economy. There will also be a 25,000 square-metre green space and a parking area that will accommodate 4,500 cars.

‘Bustling city district’

The name Broeklin refers to the neighbourhood in which it will be located – het Broek – as well as to Brooklyn, New York. “This part of the city of New York also has a rich industrial history,” says Uplace on their website, “and grew into a bustling city district for its diverse population after the industry moved away.”

Broeklin will “set a new ecological standard,” says Uplace CEO Jan Van Lancker. “We are investing €500 million in a large-scale switch from the linear to the circular economy.” Uplace promises that the site will eventually lead to 3,000 jobs.

Broeklin would also be home to small retailers that make their own products and, therefore, open to the public. “Visitors will be able to participate in the creation of products, interacting with producers on tailored specifications,” reads the Broeklin website. “Makers will be able to manufacture items on-site, lowering waste and overproduction, all while contributing to a shared resource/waste loop from other neighbouring businesses.”


Approval of the building permit, however, comes with several conditions. As soon as the first building opens at Broeklin, a shuttle bus must be operational that runs back and forth from the Vilvoorde train station. A shuttle must run at least every 7.5 minutes and have enough capacity to shuttle 360 people per hour.

Uplace must also monitor air quality at the site. Should it get worse, the site must eliminate some of the parking spaces. Uplace must also invest €1 million in urban renewal in the centre of Machelen.

This is not enough for Flemish green party Groen, however, which raised similar concerns that were heard for the original Uplace project. “This will lead to more traffic jams in the region and on the Brussels ring,” said Groen parliamentarian Stijn Bex. “So many parking spots in the absence of accessible public transport guarantees traffic chaos. This project encourages even more driving in the periphery of Brussels. And that affects the health of the residents.”

Image: The future Broeklin  ©Courtesy Uplace


Written by Lisa Bradshaw