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New conference centre - without tower - approved for EU quarter

08:53 07/02/2024

Real estate development company Atenor has been given the go-ahead to build a new conference centre in the heart of Brussels' EU district.

The 45,000m² Realex European Union building will be built on Rue de la Loi, on the opposite side of the road from the Berlaymont building.

The complex, on which works should start in the coming months, will necessitate the destruction of an existing building.

It will comprise 26,000m² for conferences, 18,600m² of office space and 600m² of shops and facilities. But these offices will no longer be housed in a tower – which critics said was too high.

Atenor said that "the high environmental quality office spaces will address the deficit of new and completely redesigned offices in the European District".

Planning and environmental permit applications were completed in 2022, but protests against the planned tower continued. Some 4,000 people signed a petition contesting this and other high towers in the city.

Four local and regional associations have been in a legal battle against towers in the area - Realex and the adjacent 'The One' - which is now built and made up mainly of apartments.

As a result, Atenor made many changes to its original plan for an office block agreed in 2014 and to its revised project of combined offices and a conference centre approved in 2019.

The new complex permit will notably bring greenery to the area. Trees will be planted in the passageway next to the building and around the new centre.

More specifically, Atenor has promised that 400m² will be dedicated to a small park and green areas, with 269 parking spaces for bicycles and 70 electric vehicle charging stations.

Its bid comes following the new ‘Shared vision for the European Quarter’ launched in February 2022. This morphed into the ‘New European Quarter Brussels’ project in November last year.

“The Brussels region wants to ensure a better balance between living and working in the quarter,” said Visit Brussels. “The intention is also to change perceptions of the neighborhood.”

For example, under this initiative, there should be no more high towers in the EU district.

The idea is for a “shared vision with sustainable development, improved mobility and an enhancement of the functional mix in the quarter as its focal points. The aim is to develop a mixed-use neighbourhood with a wider range of housing, high-quality public squares and cultural facilities.”

Even without the tower, Marco Schmitt, head of the Leopold Quarter Association, which has opposed new towers and large office blocks on Rue de la Loi for 10 years, said the Realex project must respect this new vision.

He does not agree with the proposal to lay the ground with concrete and is disappointed that the pedestrian passageway is smaller than the one initially planned. The association is now considering whether to appeal again against Realex’s new licence.

Written by Liz Newmark