Environmental permit granted for coal washes 1 and 3 at be-MINE

On June 29, ’23, the College of Mayor and Aldermen issued a permit subject to conditions to NV be-MINE for the repurposing of coal laundries 1 and 3. It concerns the so-called project be-NATURE, which aims to maintain, open up, and repurpose both coal washeries. With this project, one of the site’s most significant and most complex buildings will be repurposed. It is also a project with an incredible future for both Beringen and the many visitors who come to the be-MINE site each year. All parties involved, including policymakers, administrations, heritage associations, ex-miners, and residents of Beringen-Mine, are therefore very excited and look forward to realization. 

The Beringen mine site comprises 100,000 m² of existing building heritage. This makes it the largest industrial heritage site in Flanders and unique in Europe. Be-MINE nv, a collaboration between the Limburg investment company LRM and the private developers Ciril and Van Roey Vastgoed, is redeveloping the site. The goal? A unique tourist recreational heritage project with international potential that also serves as an essential catalyst for the adjacent cité.

That goal is becoming tangible now that the College of Mayor and Aldermen is issuing a permit to be-MINE NV to reallocate coal washes 1 and 3. “The College of Aldermen of Beringen has always put forward the preservation of the image value and the ensemble value of the building complex as essential. The current project meets this condition. More than that, the building will be made accessible to the public as a monument in a very well thought-out and easily accessible way with an experience path, an impressive 360° panorama point, and a tourist bicycle path under the building,” says Thomas Vints, mayor of Beringen.

The application file shows that the proposal to demolish and remove certain building parts has been thoroughly investigated and discussed. The College of Aldermen concurs with experts’ view that those interventions do not harm heritage values. “The production process remains readable and even more insightful because the building is partially pitted internally. The resulting visitable core provides opportunities for plant growth and reactivation of the circulation water, which provides an extra dimension. This also fits in with the vision of greening the site naturally,” explains Karolien Sas, general manager of be-MINE. “In addition, the combination of be-NATURE with the mining experience center be-MINE PIT creates a unique overall story where past and future come together.” 

Now or never

Besides the fact that the College of Aldermen is convinced and enthusiastic about how this monument will be preserved, several other elements are essential to the city council. Mayor Thomas Vints: “be-NATURE is a project with enormous growth potential. The authenticity and atmosphere that the monument – inside and out – will exude, combined with its location, will attract visitors and tourists and certainly become a place for creative, social, and economic entrepreneurship and meetings.”

Momentum is also significant. Broad support and belief in be-NATURE today is evidenced partly by balanced project financing with substantial financial input from various governments. “The strict timing imposed in that context guarantees a quick realization on the one hand and prevents further decay on the other. Also, the fact that a few weeks ago a permit was granted to be-MINE PIT offers every possibility and opportunity to develop both projects in mutual coordination and synergy with each other,” said Mayor Thomas Vints. 

Monumentenzorg Beringen: “As Werkgroep Monumentenzorg Beringen, we have been working for more than 30 years to respect and preserve heritage in the city of Beringen, especially the mine site in Beringen-Mijn. We are therefore delighted that there is a decision on behalf of the city of Beringen and that an environmental permit has been granted for the Be-Nature project today. We are aware of the complexity of this dossier and the road that has been traveled, and we thank everyone involved. With much work still to be done, we look forward to seeing how be-NATURE and be-MINE Pit merge into a unique mining heritage experience to put Beringen-Mijn on the European map. All parties involved owe this to the entire mining community in Limburg.

A similar voice chimes with Igor Philtjens, Deputy for Tourism: “Now that the permit is in place, we can start the works for be-MINE PIT. The miners have already had to wait far too long for their Limburg Mining Museum. It’s now or never! The Province of Limburg is ready!”

A heart for the mines

Tom Vanham, managing director of the Limburg investment company LRM: “Everyone with a heart for the mines and coal washes is highly pleased with this permit. This project can be seen as everyone’s child. After all, be-MINE wants this iconic building to become publicly accessible for both the people of Beringen and the many visitors who come to this unique site every year. In addition to experience and passage, we want to roll out economic activities here. Think leisure and hospitality. After all, private investment is needed to complete the financial picture. Yes, this project significantly impacts the community with a vast future and many layers. A magnificent gem – unique in Europe – of which we can all be enormously proud. Today is, therefore, a crucial momentum, preceded by thorough consultation and close cooperation between all parties involved. The best is now on the table and is receiving support at all policy levels and a significant amount of subsidies. In addition, we are happy with the support of the heritage and miners’ associations. So, we all look forward with equal anticipation to the actual realization. Together with Houtpark and be-MINE PIT, be-MINE will become a mine site with an international allure unparalleled in Europe. So now we must go for it together, securitize the resources, and safeguard the interests of Limburg. And, of course, we will continue to focus on consultation and cooperation in the future. Because the biggest dreams of all are realized together.” 

Governor Jos Lantmeeters: “Without wishing to comment on the dossier’s content, I am particularly pleased to see that all parties involved – from the initiators to the city council – have always worked to create the broadest possible support for this rather complex project. Consequently, the fact that various authorities have honored this project with considerable financial resources strengthens my conviction that the initiators have also taken the necessary care to give the entire site – while preserving its uniqueness – the future it deserves. Yet another proof that great Limburg unanimity can lead to great realizations.” There is also much relief and enthusiasm among the Vrienden van het Mijnstreekmuseum vzw & Mijnmuseum vzw: “Finally! This project is certainly not the end of an important visible industrial past for the stately coal washes, but rather the bright beginning of a meaningful future!

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