- Tour & Taxis is a large warehouse, isn't it?
Amongst other things... The Tour & Taxis site is an old logistics centre (mainly warehouses and offices), centred around a large railway freight depot. Ever since it was built at the beginning of the twentieth century (1900-1907), it has been an important staging post for goods distributed all over the country, with direct links to the canal and rail network. After it was abandoned at the end of the last century, SNCB Belgian National Railways and the Port of Brussels sold the site to private companies to develop new activities and housing. The emblematic Royal Warehouse (sometimes incorrectly called the 'Tour & Taxis Building') received the prestigious 'Europa Nostra' award in 2008 for its renovation. Situated along Avenue du Port, it conceals a large part of the rest of the site behind it, covering a total area of 30 hectares. You only need to take a tour of the site to see how far Tour & Taxis spreads.
- Why is there so much talk about Tour & Taxis at the moment?
When the PRAS, or Regional Land Use Plan, was adopted by the Brussels Region in 2001, the future of Tour & Taxis was not that clear. It was only in 2009 that the outline of the redevelopment of Tour & Taxis was decided by the Regional Government. This still needs to be fleshed out at local authority level - specifically by the City of Brussels - in a plan known as the PPAS, or Specific Land Use Plan. This plan was drawn up by the City in close collaboration with the Region. Until 19 September 2016, any interested party could comment on this plan or ask for their views to be heard at a consultation meeting, which was held on 28 September 2016. The consultation committee has then given its opinion to the City and the Region before the PPAS was finally adopted on April 20 2017.
- Tour & Taxis seems to be securely fenced off and protected! So surely it can't be for everybody?
That's just the way it looks! In reality, everyone is welcome! The fences (walls and railings) at the Tour & Taxis site used to ensure the security of the goods stored there. They are evidence of a rich industrial and architectural heritage. For this reason, some people feel they should be conserved as much as possible. But these fences only exist on two sides of the site. So they are no longer very effective in closing off the site. As the development of Tour & Taxis progresses, other security systems and above all, social control will replace the walls and the railings, which will be increasingly open. So the Tour & Taxis site is open to everyone ... as long as their intentions are good! Given the multitude of ongoing activities and projects, our stewards are there to make sure everything runs smoothly and to guide visitors.
- Is there not a risk of mixing up 'park' and 'parking' at Tour & Taxis?
It's not the first time we have heard this pun :o). As far as parking is concerned, part of the site earmarked for development is indeed currently used as a temporary car park when events are held here. In future, the car park will be built underground, and the current temporary car park will make way for phase two of the park. On the other hand, phase one of the park is already there. It includes the 4 hectares from Parckfarm and the Bockstael Bridge as far as the Repair Workshop. The appearance of the park is unusual, because it is a work in progress. In fact, the plants that are currently there are fertilising the soil naturally, improving its quality to prepare the ground for lawns and other plants. The fixed furniture will be installed in phase two of the development. The swathe of greenery that extends from Belgica-Pannenhuis and includes the Béco Park has been designed by Michel Desvigne (Paris). The development of the Tour & Taxis park (9 ha) is being carried out by Bureau Bas Smets (Brussels).
- Some people claim the park may be closed to local residents!
That's wrong. The Tour & Taxis park is already open to everyone. It is accessible as a continuation of the park of railway line 28, via the walkway leading onto the Bockstael Bridge and from Avenue du Port (crossing the Tour & Taxis site). Other entrances will open as the site development progresses (towards Rue Picard, Rue Dieudonné Lefèvre and Rue de Rotterdam). On the other hand, the park at present remains private land, but which is accessible to the public. The development and upkeep of the park will also be the responsibility of the private landowner, in collaboration with Brussels-Environment. After the completion of the whole project, it could handed over to the public authorities.
- How big is this park?
The Tour & Taxis park is part of the 'green chain' that is intended to create a walking route through green open spaces, starting from Laeken following the old railway, crossing Tour & Taxis, along the canal at the Béco basin, and leading to the former quays leading to Place Sainte-Catherine. A large part of this green open space lies within the perimeter of the PPAS Tour & Taxis, which provides for a total of 9 ha. A park can also contain asphalted surfaces (squares, paths, etc.), which is the case in the zone closest to avenue to Port, where it forms the link with the Béco Park along the canal (not developed yet). If, as seems likely, you have no idea what a site covering 9 ha looks like, it is the size of 12 football pitches. It should be borne in mind that the 9 ha do not include the land beyond the Bockstael Bridge, which the private landowner has made available to Parckfarm, nor the planted areas on the future roads and between the future buildings. Proportionally, one-third of the site is occupied by historic buildings, one-third will be taken up by new buildings, and one-third is reserved for the park. The width of the park between the buildings will be an average of 90 m, in order to maintain the perspectives of the Brussels North district.
MOBILITY AND PARKING
- Won't the road traffic be saturated because of the new residents and the people working at the site?
Today, road traffic in Brussels has largely reached its limits during rush hours. However, we should remember that people are constantly changing their behaviour, in order to choose more efficient means of transport. Tour & Taxis uses all its management and communication capacities to make visitors and customers aware of the possibilities of using alternative means of transport, other than cars. The proximity of the Gare du Nord railway station, metro stations, Villo rental bikes and the increasing availability of shared-use cars are all options that are available. Moreover, people working at the site can use shuttle services that take them to Gare du Nord and to the city centre. Soon, people will be able to work and live at Tour & Taxis. People who would like to live close to where they work will be able to save an enormous amount of time.
- Will there be more public transport?
More users on the site will justify more provision of public transport. The building (from 2017) of the new Picard Bridge will create opportunities for new bus routes to Gare du Nord and to the city centre. Public transport operator STIB has taken the development of the site into account in its new bus plan.
- Will there be enough parking spaces for everyone?
That depends on what you mean by 'enough'! On the whole site, a maximum of 3,500 parking spaces has been authorised. A quick mental calculation: if you subtract the 2,000 spaces intended for the housing, there will be 1,500 left; minus 600 for the offices, and there will only be 900 left for exhibitions and other activities, which could seem limited today. But we are counting on changing travel habits and alternatives to cars. However, the key to car parks that work property will be sharing, dual use during the day/night, and a pricing policy adapted to demand, etc. This approach should also include the other public car parks nearby.
- How many homes will be built at Tour & Taxis?
It’s impossible to give a precise number yet, but let's say that it could be up to two thousand. These homes will be concentrated in two separate zones: - half of them along a new tree-lined avenue parallel to the Gare Maritime, accessible via Rue Picard. On the corner of Rue Picard and Rue de l'Escaut, the first building (115 apartments) is already being built. The height of the buildings will only exceed that of the station in a few cases. On average, the residential buildings will not be higher than the station. - The other half will be opposite the Gare Maritime, along a new avenue following the line of the Armateurs Bridge and perpendicular to Avenue du Port. There, the buildings will be higher. Their layout will be designed not to cast shadows on homes or the park.
- With all these new homes, will the housing density not be too high?
If we count all the existing and planned buildings on the Tour & Taxis site, we come out at about 440,000m², on a site of 300,000m², or a density of 1.5 - which is less than the average in town and in the neighbouring districts. It is true that the location of Tour & Taxis is special, due to the footprint of historic buildings which are relatively low and which are not suitable for use as housing. So it is necessary to create a certain density, in order to bring the large new public spaces to life. This density is also compensated by the size of the tree-lined roads, the gardens and the park.
- Won't the homes be too expensive?
There will be a tremendous variety of locations, sizes, finishes and therefore selling prices among these new apartments. But it is obvious that to sell a large number of apartments, the prices will have to remain competitive in relation to the market. In addition, the selling price of over 500 apartments will be limited to the levels imposed by the authorities. There are no plans for public social housing companies to be building on the Tour & Taxis site, but there is nothing to prevent the relevant authorities from giving subsidies for purchase or rental at a later stage, or private investors letting apartments through social housing agencies.
- What will happen to the large warehouses in the middle of the site?
They are not really warehouses. That is the Gare Maritime, the former freight railway station, which was, in its day, one of the largest in the world. Nowadays, it is completely empty. The fantastic steel structure, with its Art Nouveau influences, is in currently renovated. After that, this large roof will accommodate a multitude of business functions, shops, cultural and tourist activities. The renovation of the building will be completed at the end of 2017 and the activities inside will resume from 2018.
- Why build more offices when half the existing offices are empty?
First of all, half the existing offices are not empty. Only 4.8% of the office space in central Brussels is unoccupied. That rate is much higher in the outskirts of the city, a sign that businesses are relying increasingly on public transport rather than cars to keep their employees moving. In recent years, many office buildings have been converted into housing. Several buildings in the Brussels North district have reached the end of their lifecycle and need to be totally renovated or redeveloped, and these buildings will not be available for several years. At the same time, it is an opportunity to create more of a mix of functions in the district. In addition, the existing supply of offices is not really in phase with demand, particularly in terms of energy performance, the flexibility of the office space and working methods, the services available locally and nearby, as well as the general atmosphere. Tour & Taxis is an inspiring place to work.
- So 'L’Hôtel de la Poste' is not a real hotel?
No. In the past, a large building was known in French as a 'hotel'. L'Hôtel de la Poste was used by the Post Office (Post, Telephone and Telegraphs) as a building containing post office counters, offices, training rooms, etc. The room with the post office counters on the ground floor is now used as an event room. On the other hand, the idea of making the former customs offices into a real hotel is emerging, and being given consideration.
- What will become of the small, disused historic buildings?
Around the Tour & Taxis site, there are smaller old buildings, such as the Hazardous Products Building, the Tractor Repair Workshop, the Signal Box, the Fish Wharf, etc. These buildings will all be renovated and will find a function in synergy with the other activities on the site. The Fish Wharf was renovated in 2015 and the Hazardous Products Building in 2016. For the moment, they are used as multi-purpose spaces.
- Why not bring workshops, urban industry and the social economy to Tour & Taxis?
We plan to, and better still, it's already here. Ranging from growing oyster mushrooms, via recasting of gold jewellery, to bee-keeping and repair workshops, a large number of small businesses are already based at Tour & Taxis. There is certainly room for more. As for larger-scale urban industry, that is the role of the neighbouring site, which will accommodate businesses including the Brasserie de la Senne.
- Will there not need to be a school and a crèche for all these new residents?
Indeed, it is planned to set up one or two primary and/or secondary schools on the site. The organising authorities are preparing initiatives along these lines. There are already two crèches in the Entrepôt Royal, but there will be others in the residential zone. In 2019, the construction of a retirement and nursing home will start just beside the Gare Maritime.
- Why did the Circus School have to move out?
The Circus School, which had been operating since 2001 in part of the Gare Maritime, had to leave the premises to allow the renovation work on the building. They were able to move into a part of the Sheds, which they found a highly satisfactory solution.
- What will T&T provide for young people?
Besides the obvious possibilities for leisure and entertainment in the park and the squares, in the longer term there will also be sports facilities. As Tour & Taxis aims to be a place for experience and discovery, the themes developed in the Gare Maritime will take account of a young and curious audience, keen to find out about nature and science.
- - Completion of the tree-lined avenue from Avenue du Port to the Gare Maritime
- - Delivery of Hôtel de la Poste (levels 1, 2, 3)
- - Renovation of the Gare Maritime (continued)
- - Construction of Riva (continued)
- - Excavation of an underground car park the length of the Gare Maritime
- - Start of construction of the Picard Bridge
- - Phase 1 of the TACT-road
- - Connection of pipeline water of rain collected to the canal
- - Renovation of the Hotel des Douanes
- - Delivery parking
- - Delivery Gare Maritime
- - Delivery Riva
- - Phase 2 of the TACT-road
- - Completion of the entrance of Avenue du Port 86c
- - Construction of a retirement and nursing home (200 beds)
- - Construction of a building of serviced flats (80 units)
- - Construction of 180 apartments
- - Last phase of the park and lake
- - Renovation of the Hotel des Douanes (continued)
- - Delivery Picard Bridge
- How many people work at Tour & Taxis?
Currently, more than 2,000 people work in the Entrepôt Royal (50 firms) and in the premises of Brussels Environment. At the beginning of 2017, the Publicis company moved 250 employees into the Customs House. At the end of 2017, another 2,500 officials of the Flemish Region will move in.
- Who does Tour & Taxis actually belong to?
The site of Tour & Taxis as a whole belonged to different private companies. Since the beginning of 2015, Extensa is the only real estate developer of the site. Extensa specialises in the renovation and development of large real estate projects. Founded in 1910 in the context of the extension of the City of Antwerp (hence the name), Extensa is developing numerous other projects in Flanders, in Wallonia, in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and even in Istanbul (Turkey). For more information, visit extensa.eu. Extensa belongs to Ackermans & van Haaren (AvH), a Belgian company operating in various sectors and which is part of the Bel20 index. Three buildings on the site have been sold, however: in 2014, the offices of Brussels Environment to the Intégrale insurance company, in 2016, the Entrepôt Royal to the real estate investment fund Leasinvest Real Estate (whose reference shareholders are AvH and Axa Bank) and in 2017, Herman Teirlinck to Baloise.