After a few stops and after being put on a side track for a while, today the "Codex train" has reached its final destination during the plenary session of Flemish Parliament.

The decree amending various provisions on land-use planning and environment of 29 November 2017 is, once again, a critical step in the restructuring of our permits system and the implementation of the principles of the White Paper on the Flanders Land-use Policy Plan.

This decree will provide in some significant modification concerning land-use planning on one side and the integrated environmental permit on the other. In general, the provisions of this Codex train shall enter into force on the 10th day following publication in the Belgian Official Gazette. However, for some provisions the Flemish Government still needs to decide on the date of entry into force. Finally, the entry into force of certain provisions is linked to the entry into force of articles in other decrees. It is recommended to verify the entry into force of each article of the Codex train before applying it.

Below you will find an overview of the main amendments:

  • In future, an administrative appeal against a permit that has been issued will only be possible if a reasoned objection had already been lodged during the public inquiry. Hence, vigilance is needed.
  • There will be more options in order to optimise land-use efficiency. For instance, subdivision regulations (verkavelingsvoorschriften) dating back more than 15 years will no longer constitute a ground for refusal.
  • A similar rule applies to regulations of local zoning plans (bijzondere plannen van aanleg): in certain cases, the competent authority can depart from town planning regulations of BPAs dating back more than 15 years.
  • For the division of a classified installation or activity (partial transfer), in certain cases a permit will be required (whereas before a mere notification was sufficient).
  • Applying façade insulation to the exterior of a house ≤ 26 cm will be considered to be remedial work within the existing building volume.
  • It will be possible to issue a permit for one stable for pet farm animals in an agricultural area, as long as there are no existing stables.
  • In case a permit holder has not been able to start the execution of the licensed construction works in time (within two years), the expiry period can be extended in case of force majeure.
  • There will be more options in exploitation areas. In addition to the exploitation of primary raw materials, the mechanical treatment of extracted minerals or enrichment of extracted minerals by mixing them with degradation products will also be possible.
  • The as-built certificate (as-builtattest) has been introduced (issued by the architect) with the concept of 'metsershaar' being the margin of tolerance.
  • The process of the so-called flagged areas (signaalgebieden) has been defined in this decree. This enables the Flemish Government to flag certain areas as 'water-sensitive open space areas', for the purpose of safeguarding the water-storage capacity of these areas. The type of acts that are still allowed (to a limited extent) will also be indicated.
  • The land-use structure plans (ruimtelijke structuurplannen) are replaced with 'land-use policy plans' (ruimtelijke beleidsplannen). This will allow provinces and municipalities to develop strategic policies without losing flexibility.
  • In future, the Flemish Government will not only be able to suspend a local land-use plan (lokaal ruimtelijk uitvoeringsplan), but also to annul it.
  • The Flemish Government will be able to abolish provisions of a municipal land-use structure plan (gemeentelijk ruimtelijk uitvoeringsplan) following the advice from the municipal council.
  • There will be a possibility to create an "intermunicipal committee on land-use planning" (intergemeentelijke commissie van ruimtelijke ordening).
  • The College of Mayor and Aldermen may waive the requirement of a report by the public officer responsible for the environment if it has not been issued in time.
  • During the development of a land-use plan (ruimtelijk uitvoeringsplan), scheduling a plenary session is no longer mandatory, yet it remains possible to do so. In the new procedure only written opinions and remarks will be allowed during the plenary session.
  • When drafting a town planning regulation (stedenbouwkundige verordening) the province as well as Flanders shall be consulted for advice.
  • The Codex train provides clarity with regard to the interpretation of the label “scenically valuable” (landschappelijk waardevol) in agricultural areas.

It should be noted that in the end, no penalty system will be put into place in case of non-compliance with decision deadlines by the government.

Finally, the legislator considered it desirable to postpone the entry into force of chapter 4 and 6 of the decree concerning the integrated trade location policy (integraal handelsvestigingsbeleid), normally scheduled for 1 January 2018, to a date to be determined by the Flemish Government. The following matters therefore do not take effect (yet) on 1 January 2018:

  • Chapter 4 of the abovementioned decree: when this chapter enters into force, the socio-economic permit will be included in the integrated environmental permit (omgevingsvergunning) and will be called 'permit for retail activities' (vergunning voor kleinhandelsactiviteiten). The applications for the building permit (stedenbouwkundige vergunning), the environmental permit and the socio-economic permit would then take place via the same procedure.
  • Chapter 6 of the aforementioned decree: once entered into force, this chapter will determine the enforcement of the trade location policy.