The ambitious reform undertaken by the Brussels-Capital Region affects all aspects of urban development: planning regulations, building and environmental permits, environmental impact assessments, commercial establishments and other matters. The overall objective of the reform of the Brussels Code of Urban Planning (Code bruxellois de l'aménagement du Territoire/Brussels Wetboek van Ruimtelijke Ordening) is to simplify the urban planning rules and procedures.
The ordinance introducing the reform was adopted on 30 November 2017 and published in the Belgian State Gazette on 20 April 2018.
The provisions on planning regulations will enter into force ten days after publication of the ordinance in the Belgian State Gazette. All other provisions, including those relating to permits, commercial establishments and environmental impact assessments, will enter into force one year after this publication date. The authorities will have to adopt dozens of decrees to allow implantation of the new rules.
In this regard, a new decree was adopted on 29 March 2018 and published on 23 April 2018 regarding the requirements for zoning and planning information (renseignements urbanistiques/ stedenbouwkundige inlichtingen).
Please find below an overview of some of the main changes to be introduced.
Zoning and planning information
Zoning and planning information is provided by the municipality and relates to the regional and municipal provisions applicable to property in Brussels, as well as the last permits issued.
The provision of zoning and planning information is mandatory for real estate transactions and lease agreements with a term of more than nine years. When the owner of the property requests such information from the municipality, it must provide a brief description of the property (address, description of the façade, use of the premises, number of apartments, number of parking spaces, possibly a plan of the premises). The municipality will then provide the information within 30 days or within 5 days in urgent cases.
Strict deadlines for issuance
The reform introduces strict deadlines for the issuance of building permits. The municipality will have 75 to 160 days to issue a permit, depending on the applicable procedure. The deadline can be extended under certain circumstances. If the permit is not issued by the indicated deadline, the file will be automatically transferred to the responsible regional official.
When the regional official is the competent authority for issuance of the building permit, the official will have up to 450 days to take a decision, depending on the applicable procedure. The application will be considered refused if a permit is not issued by the indicated deadline. In this case, the applicant can appeal to the regional authorities.
Extended period of validity
Under the new rules, a building permit must be used, i.e. substantial works must have started, within three years from its date of issuance. If works are to be carried out in phases, the three-year period of validity will apply to each separate stage rather than to the project as a whole. It should be noted that the permit will expire if works are interrupted for a period of more than one year.
In 2014, the Brussels-Capital Region abolished the socio-economic permit for commercial establishments (previously governed by federal law) and integrated socio-economic aspects into the building permit. This reform was never fully implemented, however, as certain concepts related to commercial activities proved too difficult to combine with urban planning law.
The 2018 reform abolishes all specific provisions introduced in 2014 in relation to commercial establishments. In future, the normal circumstances in which a building permit is required will apply in the same way to commercial establishments (construction, extension, change of intended use or usage, etc.). The obligation to file a prior declaration is also abolished.
In addition, the environmental impact assessment thresholds will be raised. A report will be required when the establishment's surface area exceeds 1,250 m² (instead of 1,000 m² as is currently the case). A study will be required when the surface area exceeds 5,000 m² (up from 4,000 m²).
Environmental impact assessments
When an environmental impact assessment or EIA is required, the public inquiry will now last for 30 days, regardless of whether the project necessitates an EIA study or report.
The preliminary stage entailing the preparation of draft technical specifications for an EIA study has been abolished. The authorities can now use a single model of technical specifications for all EIA studies. The EIA study must be finalised within a period of six months.
Some EIA thresholds are modified:
• Parking lots: an EIA report is required for parking lots with more than 50 places (up from 25); an EIA study is required if there are more than 400 places (up from 200). • Commercial establishments: as mentioned above, an EIA report or study is required if the surface area of the establishment exceeds 1,250 m² or 5,000 m², respectively. • Housing: an EIA report is required when the surface area of the project exceeds 2,500 m².
Mixed projects require both a building permit and an environmental permit (category 1A or 1B).
After the reform enters into effect, applicants will be able to file a single application for both permits with the responsible regional official who will transfer the environmental permit application to the Brussels Institute for Environmental Management (Institut bruxellois pour la gestion de l'environnement/Brussels Instituut voor Milieubeheer). This will facilitate simultaneous issuance of the two permits.
The deadlines for the issuance of building permits have been aligned to those for environmental permits. If the application procedure for the environmental permit is suspended, the building permit procedure will be automatically suspended as well and vice versa.
The new Code simplifies the rules on subdivision permits, both in terms of their scope and the procedure to modify existing permits. A subdivision permit is now required only when the division of the property entails the creation or extension of a road. The responsible regional official is in charge of issuing such permits.
Development master plan
The Brussels Code of Urban Planning introduces a new urban planning tool: the development master plan. This new tool will indicate the regional government's main urban planning objectives and help ensure the implementation of projects in strategic priority areas selected by the government such as Tour & Taxis, the Canal Zone, etc. While the development master plan as a whole will have indicative value only, it will be possible to assign regulatory value to certain of its provisions. In this case, in the event of conflicting provisions, the master plan will take precedence over other instruments.
Statute of limitations for construction violations
The reform introduces a new statute of limitations for construction violations. It should be noted that the limitation period does not apply to the perpetrator of the violation or to persons that knowingly continue it. Furthermore, as construction violations tend to be continuous in nature, the statute of limitations only starts to run when the illegal situation arising from the violation ends. The limitation period will run for ten years from issuance by the competent authority of a report establishing the violation.