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SNCB puts 150,000m² of office space up for sale

14:21 19/05/2024

Belgium’s rail operator SNCB has put four large office complexes near Brussels-Midi station up for sale - totalling some 150,000m².

About half the area - 73,000m² - comes from the France-Bara complex opposite the station. This consists of 12 buildings including workshops and depots.

The second complex, the Atrium, a triangular office space on Avenue de la Porte de Hal, provides 49,000m² spread over 15 floors.

Two interconnected office blocks, Delta-Zennewater (27,000m² in total), near the railway tracks, are also up for sale.

The SNCB wants to sell the buildings as part of its ambitious project to move to new headquarters. The company aims to refurbish the old postal sorting office on Avenue Fonsny to house all of its staff based in the capital.

The initial plan was that a consortium of four real estate agencies - Besix, the BPC group, BPI Real Estate and Immobel - would develop the buildings. In return they would build the new SNCB headquarters.

Now, according to Flemish daily newspaper De Tijd, the consortium is no longer interested in buying these properties.

Calculations made in 2020 on the value of the complexes are no longer realistic because of the sharp rise in construction costs and due to the stagnation in the property market.

The SNCB said it would still go ahead and build its new base, but the plans remain controversial.

Inter-Environnement Bruxelles (IEB) project officer Claire Scohier told Bruzz that the IEB - an urban, ecological and social group that brings together neighbourhood associations - and the local collective ‘Midi Moins Une’ have challenged the permit at Belgium’s Council of State.

While the latest developments have put construction of SNCB’s new headquarters on hold, Scohier remains negative about the sale.

"SNCB, as a public company, is reaffirming the privatisation of the Bara buildings and of other sites," she said. "Only now it will be through a sale to other project developers.

"The property cycle continues to work like this. It is advantageous for construction companies, but it does not benefit local residents. Because, in essence, it’s always about replacing office buildings with other office buildings."

Scohier has other plans, telling Bruzz: "In our dream scenario, the Brussels region would buy part of the sites to create a public park. This type of urban park at the Gare du Midi would benefit local residents, commuters and tourists.”

The same logic is seen in Move’Hub – another property development in the area that citizens group Midi Moins Une condemns as having “nothing social at all”, but only more offices.

The disused postal office targeted as the new SNCB base has been used for social goals in the past – housing alternative music or cultural festivals, or hosting meeting rooms for local groups or soup kitchens.

Written by Liz Newmark