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Flanders will be confronted with a fait accompli as investments in the region will be made impossible, Flemish environmental minister Joke Schauvliege CD&V said in the Flemish Parliament yesterday in response to the Council of State’s suspension of the environmental permit for the Uplace shopping complex in Machelen. The Flemish government now fears the Council of State ruling on Uplace could affect other works in the pipeline such as new roads or infrastructure that often impact on the environment and traffic. Disturbances are usually tempered with investments in new roads or public transport. However, in its ruling on the Uplace case, the Council of State was not satisfied with the plans for new roads, suggesting that the Flemish government could not “simply take it for granted that infrastructure concerning mobility will automatically be approved and realized”. Minister-president Kris Peeters CD&V said yesterday that their arguments have ‘surprised many’ and ‘raised many eyebrows’. When questioned in the Flemish Parliament yesterday Schauvliege suggested the ruling will have far-reaching implications, saying: “That means not a single permit will be issued for an investment project of this magnitude before all supporting measures are in place. Flanders will have to face the consequences of a drop in future investments.”
The ruling has hampered the Flemish government’s ambitions to accelerate the granting of permits by the civil service. But it seems it is a matter of easier said than done if one considers former minister-president Yves Leterme’s promise in 2004 to synchronise building and environmental permits. The Flemish government will be in position to honour this promise only next year amid growing impatience within the parliament about delays with permits.
Irritation about the role of the Council of State is nothing new. Acting as watchdog on matters such as the appointment of officials, the allocation of government tenders and permits, the Council of State protects the rights of individual citizens against the state. Unfortunately the body is so diligent that it often takes only one well-aimed complaint to bring more complex projects to a halt. Peeters, who would prefer the Council to be able to gain access to additional information before putting a stop to projects, yesterday repeated his intention to “change their way of working as soon as possible’.
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