VOKA Rondetafelgesprek - Foto: Wim Kempenaers

Round-table discussion VOKA: Development and construction in Flanders. How rigid is our permit policy?

Many rules and yet uncertain.

Anyone who wants to build, rebuild, demolish or dig in Flanders needs an environmental permit.
The regulations, in force since 2017, initially integrated environmental and building permits, followed by nature and retail permits later on.

Today, contractors and contracting authorities are experiencing benefits from these reformed regulations and advanced digitalisation. However, there still are further gains to be made here.

Many rules and yet uncertain. That summarizes the dissatisfaction, but especially the concern about a difficult permit process. According to the Knowledge centre VOKA, many 'entrepreneurial' actors in the process, in particular project developers and other initiators, share this idea.

“Large, complex projects have become almost impossible to realise in Flanders," said Steven Betz, senior advisor for environment & spatial planning at the Knowledge centre VOKA. But people also complain about the long waiting times to effectively start the many thousands of smaller projects. “There is a sense of rule-breaking and unnecessary waste of time here.”

Entrepreneurs VOKA East Flanders (Ondernemers VOKA Oost-Vlaanderen) discussed this with a panel of six experience experts active in real estate, environment and project development.

During this round-table discussion, our colleague Julie De Pauw, Development Manager at PSR, shared her views and insights on the future of this crucial policy instrument.

Leden rondetafelgesprek VOKA
Picture panelists © Wim Kempenaers.
Pictured from left to right: Laurens Branteghem, Vic Huys, , Steven Betz, Caroline Verdoodt, Mieke Schauvlieghe, Julie De Pauw.

Meet Julie's views on the statements discussed during this round-table discussion.
Many rules and yet uncertain.

Julie: “A preliminary project can run over three to four years. We spend a tremendous amount of energy in fine-tuning all the regulations. There should be someone at the municipality who coordinates this process for us. Now we are running down departments with our file ourselves, while a coordinated approach with support from a municipal SPOC (single point of contact) would help a lot.”

Inaccurate policy makes property more expensive

Julie: “Some municipalities impose regulations on the required surface of flats in a project. These are often so large that they risk becoming unaffordable. I do understand the underlying objective of the policy, but it should be possible to build affordable housing.”

Being 'against' is of hardly any cost

Julie: “Despite the efforts of successive ministers for simplifying administration, procedures have only become more difficult. In 2021, the average delay to obtain a building permit in Flanders was no less than 44 months. On top of this, over 54% of project developers faced an appeal procedure. In other words, the time has come to act. We want to make the property supply more sustainable, however those permits will not be issued. Today, access to appeal procedures is all too easy. For about 100 euros, you go to the province administration and file an appeal against a building project.”

Better to do it this way

Julie: “The preliminary process is a considerable financial burden for any project developer. On average, it takes four years just to obtain a permit. We agree that the process must be qualitative, but there must also be an awareness that the process can be shortened.”

How to improve quality?

Julie: “We put a lot of energy into informing the neighbourhood. During info meetings, we miss the policy that says: ‘We support this project’. When we ask to join, we always get the answer: 'We have to act independently. In my opinion, this is a counterproductive signal.”

The full article can be read in Dutch:

Ondernemers Voka Oost-Vlaanderen / Entrepreneurs VOKA East Flanders, Jan Van Gyseghem, March 2023: