EXAMPLES OF BEST PRACTICES: Environmental NGO against unplanned development, Belgium

To illustrate how public participation can improve environmental decision making, the CO-SEED team gathered case studies from around the world. The case study below is part of our on-going series sharing these examples:

Local populations need to have a say in the development of their surroundings.

The development of an industrial zone should comply with a municipal planning scheme. However, in one Belgian municipality a municipal planning scheme was abolished without an equivalent document being put in its place. At the same time, the municipality approved the development of an industrial zone.

Inter-Environnement Wallonie, the umbrella environmental NGO in the French speaking part of Belgium, legally challenged the decree abolishing the planning scheme on the grounds that it constituted a deterioration of procedural guarantees and thus was a violation of the standstill obligation of the Belgian Constitution for the right to protect environmental health. Specifically, the local residents would: 1) not see this area being developed in accordance with relevant standards and regulations; 2) nor obtain an environmental impact assessment of the programme for the area in question; 3) nor have any say in the way in which the area would be developed.

The Court noted that prior to the enactment of the decree an industrial development zone was required to comply with a municipal planning scheme for the entire area. This compliance would have to be demonstrated, among other procedural steps, through an environmental impact assessment. Therefore, the Court reasoned that an environmental impact assessment procedure satisfying the requirements of the EU EIA Directive and of the Aarhus Convention had not taken place, and required that these failings be corrected