Article by Lieven Peeters and Robin Cunin, advocaten/avocats

The status of offices in the Brussels Capital Region

The Brussels Capital Region has finally published its New Regional Zoning Plan ("RZP" - better known in Belgium as the "GBP" or "PRAS"). It appeared in the Belgian State Gazette of 14 June 2001. The RZP entered into force on 29 June 2001 and ended a period of chaos in this respect.

Notwithstanding the fact that the RZP includes the higher regulatory provisions in the field of zoning laws (i.e. every new request for a building permit has to comply with the provisions of the RZP) the creation process was long and burdensome. A series of draft texts was released, and often the drafts were already outdated by the time they appeared. This led to legal uncertainty and a lack of regulation of the zoning laws in the Brussels Capital Region. Now, however, the RZP is the basis on which all building permits are issued in the Brussels Capital Region.

In comparison with the Regional Development Plan of 3 March 1995 and the second draft RZP of 30 August 1999, the concept of "offices" has been redefined. The production of immaterial goods (engineering, hi-tech, telecommunications, audio, etc.) and material services (delivery of documents, warehousing, cleaning services, etc.) no longer fall with the scope of "office" activities. The idea behind the re-definition is to avoid hindering the evolution of the new economies with the restrictive conditions imposed on the establishing of offices. Similarly, in order not to divide up urbanistically constituent parts of an economic unit, the concept of a "production unit" includes the office space, the warehousing and the business which are ancillary thereto.

As of the birth of the Brussels Capital Region in 1989, minimising the uncontrolled establishing of offices was high on the political agenda. The Region's government has always tried to avoid an exodus of the inhabitants and the associated loss of taxable income. The RZP is to be viewed in the same light. The establishing of offices in residential or mixed zones is made subject to restrictive conditions in order to keep the growth of office space under control. The establishing of office space even has to be examined under time constraints. The so-called "railway zones" and the "zones of regional importance under deferred development" are only to be permitted to house offices upon complete saturation and/or renovation of the principal administrative zones and the zones of general regional interest, which should the bulk providers of office space.

In residential living zones and mixed zones, the establishing of offices is in essence subject to the following three conditions:

  • the absence of destruction of existing residential zones (or maintaining an equal area for residential purposes on the residential zone site or in the mixed zones);
  • no exceeding of the authorised area of office space in a building (e.g. maximum 250m² without any possibility of extension in zones predominantly for residential living);
  • no exceeding of the authorised area of office space per mesh ("maas/maille"). A mesh is a territory which groups together a series of "urbanistic islands", which can add up to half of the territory of a small municipality. The RZP provides for a map indicating the remaining office space available per mesh ("kasatoka/casba"), which is kept up-to-date in accordance with the creation or demolition of office space.

The RZP provides for some situations in which exceptions to the above three-fold limitation are possible. The most favourable one is the "rescue clause" for existing buildings for which an urbanistic permit exists, or, in the absence of a permit, the lawful use of which does not correspond with the RZP entering into force. Such buildings can be converted, renovated and even reconstructed notwithstanding the designated use of that particular zone under the RZP by invoking the rescue clause.

It is clear that when you have the idea of purchasing, renovating or selling an office building in the Brussels Capital Region, the complicated rules of the new RZP will play an important role in the successful execution of that idea.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.