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Schaerbeek conditionally approves plans for Josaphat site development
After the neighbouring municipality of Evere announced that it would accept the building plans for the contested Josaphat site, under certain circumstances, Schaerbeek has now followed suit and will issue its own conditional approval.
The redevelopment of the old marshalling yard, which has long been a wild strip of land running between the two municipalities, is one of the biggest proposed construction sites on the Brussels government’s wishlist, spanning 25 hectares. In the government's original plans, the site would be completely built up on the land running beside the train tracks.
But the area has grown in recent decades into an urban wilderness, with a rarely seen wealth of birds, foxes and insects, among other things, making their home there. For example, more than 120 bee species have been observed there.
As a result, there has been considerable protest against the original government plan, from prominent locals such as writer and Schaerbeek resident David Van Reybrouck, as well as environmental and city movements, and concerned young people. As a result, the regional government has revised the project.
The number of planned housing units has fallen from the original number of 1,600 to 1,200, of which only 323 were reserved for social housing. However, despite the drop in homes, the large untouched area that nature lovers and other associations had asked for will not be in the new plans. The so-called ‘Biopark’ is limited to 1.28 hectares, about 5% of the total area.
"After the first reading and the presentation of the original project, we had delivered a negative opinion," said Marc Weber, head of cabinet for Schaerbeek's mayor Cécile Jodogne. "Due to the fundamental changes to the project since then, the members of the Schaerbeek college have decided that they can now agree to the project, but they do set a series of conditions."
For example, the municipality asks to be regularly consulted during the various phases of the construction project, referencing the "lack of good governance that emerged during the various phases of the development of the construction project." Schaerbeek also wants more transparency about advice from other government bodies and wants to be involved in the evaluations and controls that are registered in the plan.
Schaerbeek was disappointed that the plan does not offer enough guarantees to achieve the environmental goals "which have nevertheless been explicitly formulated". The municipality makes it a condition that these environmental objectives are integrated into the construction project in a more compelling way (biodiversity, construction quality, management of water and energy). Another requirement is the application of additional studies needed to verify whether the mobility and land management objectives are "actually achievable".
Sauvons la friche Josaphat, a collective that defends the biodiversity of the wilderness, called the decision a "long indictment of the project, which nicely underlines all incoherent, insufficiently documented and illegal aspects".
"Even though the municipality only gives its blessing under certain conditions, it does not take sufficient account of the interests of the people of Schaerbeek, and the preservation of the municipal heritage," said the collective’s Pierre Ryckmans.
Local councillor Georges Verzin is also not happy with the decision. "This decision gives carte blanche to the region and those who just want to stay in government, even if they have to betray their commitments to the citizens of Schaerbeek but also and especially to the climate objectives." He said that there was plenty of vacant office buildings available to be turned into additional housing without having to spoil green spaces.
The public inquiry into the new plan for the Josaphat site, in which citizens can also give their opinion, will run until 25 November.
The advice of the Schaerbeek college was presented and discussed during the city council on Wednesday evening. The mayor and first alderman Vincent Vanhalewyn met representatives of Sauvons la Friche Josaphat beforehand.